Recep Tayyip Erdogan was sworn in as Turkey's president on Thursday, extending his political domination of the country by at least another five years. His opponents fear that his administration will bring increasingly authoritarian and religiously conservative policies.
"In my capacity as president of the republic, I swear upon my honor and repute before the great Turkish nation and before history to safeguard the existence and independence of the state," he said during the ceremony in parliament. He then visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the secular Turkish nation, where he laid a wreath in his honor.
Erdogan won his country's first popular election for president earlier this month after leading the Justice and Development Party (AKP) for more than a decade as prime minister. Parliament had appointed previous presidents. Erdogan has plainly signaled that the adoption of his new post will mark the next stage of his plans for the country.
While the Turkish presidency is traditionally a relatively ceremonial office, Erdogan wants to establish an executive system to strengthen it. He will accomplish this partly by exercising powers neglected by his predecessors, but also by ambitiously altering the country's constitution to grant him greater authority.
Ahmet Davutoglu, a close political ally of Erdogan's whom he appointed as acting prime minister following the ceremony, will take over as AKP leader. Davutoglu will form a new government and announce a cabinet on Friday. He is expected to support the constitutional changes sought by Erdogan.
'It is not so much a "New Turkey" as more of the same under a new slogan.'
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), boycotted the ceremony after accusing Erdogan of violating the constitution by not relinquishing his prime ministerial role immediately after being elected as president. Under the constitution, a newly elected president has to vacate his government posts and leave his party.
"After being elected president, he has continued to act like the chairman of the Justice and Development Party," Kilicdaroglu had said. "This represents an obvious attack against the honor of the state."
Kilicdaroglu's fellow CHP delegates joined his boycott, exiting parliament ahead of Erdogan's arrival. One lawmaker even threw a copy of the constitution at the parliamentary speaker before storming out.
Meanwhile, some members of the media were apparently blocked from entering the presidential palace. Emre Soncan, a political correspondent with the local Zaman daily newspaper, which is affiliated with Erdogan's avowed foes in the Islamic Gülen movement, told VICE News that he had gone to the presidential palace as usual but was denied entry.
"I went to the palace to cover the story and they told me they can't let me in to cover the news," he said, adding that a number of other outlets had also been denied entry. Soncan said he was also informed that he would no longer be granted press access to the presidential palace.
Representatives from 90 countries are scheduled to attend further ceremonies at the presidential palace tonight. Western heads of state are noticeably absent, however, perhaps reflecting disapproval of Erdogan's recent policies.
His 11-year tenure as prime minister was characterized by a combative style and belligerent rhetoric, as well as increasingly religious and conservative initiatives. This has split Turkey between pious traditionalists who back his Islamic ideals and more Westernized secular adherents who are fiercely opposed to them.
Still, Erdogan's general popularity is not in doubt. He was elected to the presidency following his most challenging year as prime minister, as he met protests against his policies with repressive police action and weathered a corruption scandal that implicated him and his family and threatened to destabilize his government. Erdogan banned Twitter to limit the damage before a court reversed the move, while his party passed a law tightening the government's control of the judiciary.
Soncan described his being barred from the presidential palace as symptomatic of Erdogan's authoritarian tendencies.
"I'm not sorry for myself or for our newspaper but for Turkish democracy, because Erdogan is calling this era 'New Turkey,' but what we see from 'New Turkey' is less democracy, less human rights, less freedom, and more repression over media."
Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow specializing in Turkey at Chatham House, told VICE News that he has similar expectations for Edorgan's presidency.
"I anticipate more of the same," Hakura said. "He will continue attempting to centralize power in the executive branch of the government, intensify state regulation of the internet and of the traditional media, and pursue a socially conservative political agenda in terms of the school curriculum, regulation on the purchasing and marketing of alcohol, and access to publicly provided reproductive medicinal care. It is not so much a 'New Turkey' as more of the same under a new slogan."
The powers available to President Erdogan are already quite significant, though they were largely neglected by his predecessors. They include appointing the prime minister and senior members of the judiciary, approving members of the ministerial cabinet and presiding over it, as well as the ability to recall legislation passed by parliament. Erdogan has indicated that he intends to make full use of his presidential authority.
Extending his political capabilities still further will rely either on informal arrangements without constitutional and legal underpinning, or amending the constitution, which he aims to do. However, Hakura noted that it appears unlikely that the AKP will muster the required majority singlehandedly, especially given the slowing of the economy.
"Informal arrangements are by their very definition relatively shaky, and they can regularly be challenged," he said. "In the short term, Erdogan will stamp authority on the ruling party and Prime Minister Davutoglu. In the longer term, it's a real possibility that tensions start creeping in between Davutoglu and Erdogan, especially now that the Turkish economy is increasingly stagnant and growth is sluggish."
Erdogan's political appeal has largely derived from his having presided over a remarkable period of economic growth. A deteriorating outlook would pose a significant challenge to the new president.
Follow John Beck on Twitter: @JM_Beck