Who will succeed Erdoğan?

After 18 years in power, no one knows when and how the reign of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will come to an end, but his departure could be an abrupt one, Michael Rubin, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said in an article for the National Interest on Sunday.

“The only certainty is that when Erdoğan’s tenure ends, it will be much more sudden than any expect: no dictator wakes up thinking today will be his last day,” Rubin said.

Erdoğan began his political career as mayor of Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest and most populated city, in 1994, he has governed the country since 2003, first as prime minister then as president from 2014.

“There is hope, at least among some Turkey hands at the State Department, that Turkey will return to the status quo ante after Erdoğan. But this is naïve,” Rubin said.

Erdoğan wishes to keep the leadership of Turkey within his family in order to preserve the “multibillion-dollar family fortune that he accumulated during his time in office”, Rubin said.

“While Erdoğan is a force while alive, the intimidation that his associates feel will dissipate upon his death,” he said.

Erdoğan’s governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) will probably splinter after his death, with some senior leaders leaving to form their own political parties, Rubin said.

“A wildcard, of course, would be Turkey’s return to a parliamentary system, especially if enough Turks recognise the damage Erdoğan did with a strong executive,” he said. Erdoğan gained vastly enhanced presidential powers in 2018 following a nationwide referendum the previous year.

The United States and the European Union need to stop ignoring the political opposition and start to pursue relations with those who might replace Erdoğan, according to Rubin.

“Indeed, nothing could signal more the importance the West places on Turkey’s democracy than a concerted effort to respect the country’s political plurality,” he said.