Hailing the victory of his party in recent local elections as a personal triumph, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan now appears set to run for the presidency and to seek to consolidate his rule by concentrating de facto political power in that office. But the depth of popular opposition to Erdogan poses a threat to his ambitions.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan greeted the resounding victory of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in local elections as a personal triumph. Beset by allegations of corruption and malpractice, Erdogan treated the 30 March poll as a referendum on his record in government and a test of his popularity ahead of presidential elections on 10 August 2014. Having centred the local election campaign around his own persona, Erdogan now appears set to run for the presidency and to seek to consolidate his rule by concentrating de facto political power in that office.

However, the elections also demonstrated that Turkey is a dangerously divided society. The depth of the opposition to Erdogan poses a threat to his ambitions. Over the months ahead, his main challenge is likely to be the governability of the country rather than mere electoral arithmetic.

From caution to confidence
After the AKP first took office in November 2002, Erdogan proceeded cautiously, anxious to avoid antagonising the secularists who had dominated the Turkish republic since its foundation in 1923. In July 2007, the AKP won a second successive term in power, taking 46.7% of the vote, up from 34.3% in 2002. As the AKP's electoral support grew, so did Erdogan's confidence. Domestic policies became increasingly informed by his conservative, Sunni Muslim values. Although he reiterated his commitment to the country's bid for membership of the European Union, the main focus of Turkish foreign policy shifted to cultivating closer ties with other predominantly Sunni countries in the Middle East. Inside the government, Erdogan became less willing to delegate. Even relatively minor decisions required his personal approval. By the time the party won a third successive general election in June 2011, taking 49.8% of the popular vote, for most of his supporters Erdogan had become the AKP – and Erdogan himself began to encourage the development of a personality cult.

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