Erdogan's rise: From controversial PM to president courting power

Turkish Prime Minister wins presidency
Turkish Prime Minister wins presidency

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Story highlights

  • Prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan becomes Turkey's first directly elected president
  • He has been a controversial leader and is expected to be a powerful president
  • Erdogan has big economic plans but they may get foiled by geopolitical pressures

Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made history as the country's first directly elected president but his ambitious economic plans could be scuttled by the region's volatile geopolitics.

As prime minister, Erdogan presided over the dramatic rise and fall of Turkey's economy, wooing the emerging East before being undone by the winding back of stimulus programs in the West.

Despite the economic decline, and a 52% presidential vote being lower than expected, Erdogan's aims for expansion remain undimmed.

John Defterios

He has outlined plans to boost Turkey's GDP from $820 billion in 2013 to $2 trillion in 2023, and to more than double per capita income from just under $11,000 to $25,000 in the same time frame. The year 2023 is important to Erdogan, as it is the 100th anniversary of the country's founding as a modern state by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Near term, the real challenge is avoiding stagnation due to the challenges in neighboring Syria and especially in Northern Iraq -- where the march of terrorist group ISIS continues -- which are undermining growth. After hitting 2% in 2012, the economy grew 4% last year. The government is expecting to show 4% growth for 2014.

Erdogan criticizes Egypt's approach to Gaza
Erdogan criticizes Egypt's approach to Gaza

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In his victory speech Erdogan, who as PM presided over the violent Gezi Park protests, a Twitter blackout and a corruption probe that hit the government, declared he wanted to start a "social reconciliation" period, leaving the "tensions, culture of clashes and virtual problems" in the "old Turkey."

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Erdogan's force of personality carried him through nearly 12 years of prime ministership and he should not be underestimated in this new role.

Has Turkish democracy failed?
Has Turkish democracy failed?

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But his controversial rule as prime minister prompted ratings agency Fitch to Monday say political risk remained high as Erdogan shifted his power to president.

"Given the anti-government protests last summer in response to Erdogan's perceived authoritarian tendencies," Fitch said, "political tension is likely to remain high as Erdogan seeks to extend the power of the presidency."

Fitch warned Turkey's "policy coherence and credibility" was already weaker than its ratings peers, noting Erdogan's leadership had contributed to political risk that fed credit weakness.

Beyond the domestic concerns, Erdogan cannot control the volatility of his country's neighborhood -- and could find his plans entangled in his own divisive history and that of the region.

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