Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey's first president elected by popular vote, began his fourth year in the post Monday, leaving behind numerous challenges, including the fight against multiple terrorist groups, diplomatic spats and a period of political transformation. The referendum process that paved the way for the president to be elected by popular vote and the transformation of the political regime was launched in 2007 with a constitutional amendment package. The proposed changes, prepared by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) following the presidential election crisis in May 2007, envisaged allowing the president to be elected by popular vote rather than parliamentary decision for the first time in the country's history. It was approved by 68.9 percent of the vote in a referendum.
Former Prime Minister Abdullah Gül served as the country's last president elected by Parliament, between 2007 and 2014. The country experienced a tough period during the final year of Gül's presidency, marred by the Gezi Park protests in June 2013 and the coup attempt masterminded by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) on Dec. 17 and Dec. 25, 2013 in attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government in a wide-ranging wave of detentions and investigations targeting some government ministers and business figures, particularly those close to then Prime Minister Erdoğan and his family members. Erdoğan lashed out against the attempts and turned the tables on himself, taking a resolute stance in the fight against FETÖ's smear campaign that targeted him and his inner circle through the media prior to his entering the presidential election in August 2014.
Many political analysts labeled that period the toughest period of his political career, in retroactive evaluations in the wake of the scandal, saying that he would not receive sufficient support even from his own party members.
First president elected by popular vote
The presidential race in 2014 occurred between Erdoğan, the former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu and the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş. Erdoğan won the election with 51.7 percent of the vote, becoming the country's 12th president and the first president elected by popular vote. İhsanoğlu, who entered the election as the joint candidate of the Republican People's Party (CHP), Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Democrat Party (DP), Democratic Left Party (DSP), Great Union Party (BBP), Independent Turkey Party (BTP) and several other minor parties, garnered 38.4 percent of the vote, coming in second.
Rise in terrorist attacks
Following the election, while Erdoğan continued the counterterrorism fight against FETÖ, after 2015, Daesh began its wave of suicide attacks targeting Turkish cities, killing hundreds of civilians, tourists, soldiers and police. Suicide attacks intensified between July 2015 and August 2016, resulting in the deaths of more than 300 people.
The PKK re-launched its armed campaign against the Turkish state, ending a two-and-a-half year reconciliation period by killing police officers Feyyaz Yumuşak and Okan Acar in their homes in the Ceylanpınar district of Şanlıurfa province.
However, the PKK's strategy to wage war from urban areas was thwarted as a result of massive military operations and cooperation from locals in the region. Then, the PKK shifted its strategy and clung instead to assassination plots, particularly targeting political figures that refuse to adhere to its policies. Since July 2015, the PKK has been responsible for the deaths of some 1,200 security personnel and civilians, including women and children.
FETÖ's July 15 coup attempt
As Turkey continued to crack down on terrorists on several fronts, FETÖ was resorting to desperate measures in its attempts to seize power, attempting a coup on the night of July 15, 2016. A small military junta loyal to the terrorist group and its U.S.-based leader, Fetullah Gülen, tried to implement plans to topple the democratically elected president and government and impose martial law.
Erdoğan urged citizens to take to the streets on a news broadcast he connected to over FaceTime, in a show of support against the coup attempt. He also escaped an assassination attempt on July 15, as 25 soldiers in Special Forces helicopters raided a hotel in the Marmaris district where Erdoğan had been staying, raiding the facility and opening fire shortly after Erdoğan had escaped.
The attempt was thwarted by troops loyal to the government along with police and millions of citizens in favor of democracy.
A total of 249 people, mostly civilians, were killed by putschist soldiers and over 2,000 others were injured.
Euphrates Shield cleared Turkish border from Daesh
A month after the bloody coup attempt, Ankara took a more intimidating stance against national security threats, launching the cross-border Operation Euphrates Shield offensive on August 24, 2016, to drive Daesh from its borders, declaring that the Turkish state was exercising its right to self-defense as codified in U.N. Charter Article 51. The operation, which heavily relied on Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters backed by Turkish artillery and air support, ended in March 2017, after the Daesh had been driven from the border and crucial border towns, including Jarablus, al-Rai, Dabiq and al-Bab, were liberated.
The government declared a state of emergency to clear all FETÖ members from positions they held in state institutions.
April 16 referendum, switch to presidential system
During the last months of 2016, the AK Party and the opposition MHP launched a joint process to introduce a constitutional reform package to transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential regime.
After months of preparation, an 18-article amendment package was presented in Parliament and a referendum was scheduled for April 16 for the public to vote on the proposed changes.
The amendment package was approved by 51.41 percent of the vote with 48.59 percent voting against it with 87.45 percent voter turnout.
Erdoğan's return to AK Party as chairman
After the referendum, which allowed Erdoğan to re-establish his ties with the AK Party, the party held an emergency convention on May 21, and Erdoğan resumed the chairmanship of the AK Party.
The AK Party has entered a new era following Erdoğan's return to party leadership in late May, as he introduced his 180-day plan, which is considered the first task for the Cabinet and AK Party officials to complete. According to reports, Erdoğan is highly likely to determine the next Cabinet if he wins the 2019 presidential election.
Erdoğan also criticized local administrators and party officials in the run-up to the April 16 referendum for their lack of enthusiasm and dynamism, adding that he would be willing to replace some figures in rural AK Party branches who have shown signs of fatigue
and unraveling abilities, replacing them with deputies who are more passionate and enthusiastic about the new term.
Nearly 90 visits abroad in 3 years
Erdoğan has made nearly 90 visits abroad in three years, with the U.S., Saudi Arabia and Russia being the countries he visited most. Erdoğan also made 147 domestic visits to 65 cities as president.
He visited the U.S. five times – once in 2014, three times in 2016 and once this year, having also visited Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Chile, Peru and Ecuador in South America.
During his three years as president, Erdoğan visited Russia four times and China three times.
He has visited numerous countries in the Middle East in addition to Saudi Arabia, which he visited five times, also traveling four times to Qatar, three times to Kuwait and once to both Bahrain and Jordan.
Erdoğan has also visited 15 European countries 20 times, including a visit each to the U.K., Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Slovenia, Slovakia, Romania, Albania, Croatia, Poland, Belarus and Bosnia-Herzegovina, two visits to Germany and three visits to France and Belgium.