May 28, 2023

Three months after earthquake, Turks head to the polls in Erdogan’s most dangerous election in 20 years | world

Erdogan, Türkiye’s longest-serving leader, was nowhere close to losing office

On Sunday (14), Turkey is going through a particularly crucial election: it is the first round of voting for the post of president, and the current leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has never been the longest in the history of the country’s republic. At great risk of losing office.

The leader of the religiously conservative Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in 2003, initially as prime minister. In 2017, he led the change of the political system from parliamentary to presidential after emerging victorious from the coup attempt that took place in 2016. Since then, he has won all presidential elections.

A montage showing Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu at election rallies in Turkey in May 2023 – Photo: Reuters

In 2023, however, polls point to elections approaching – opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu had a slight lead in the first round, but the outcome is likely to be decided in the second round on May 28.

For the first time in 20 years since Erdogan came to power, he is facing a real electoral challenge and may, in fact, lose.

Unluhisarcikli says the race is about two different visions of what Turkey’s future could look like:

On the other hand, there is President Erdogan’s vision of a security state, a society in which power is consolidated in the hands of the executive branch; On the other hand, there is a vision represented by Kilicdaroglu for a more pluralistic Turkey, where there is a clear division of powers between executive, legislative and judicial.

More than 64 million people, including 3.2 million expatriate Turkish citizens, can vote. More than 1.6 million people have already cast their ballots abroad or at airports. Voter turnout in Türkiye is usually high.

Voters will also vote for seats in the 600-member parliament. The opposition will need at least a majority to enact some of the democratic reforms it has promised.

The strongest opponent Erdogan has ever seen

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, leader of the opposition, is a secular, centre-left politician. He’s a People’s Republican, but he’s leading a six-party coalition to try and defeat the sitting president.

The political coalition running for the opposition includes both Islamists and nationalists. He also had the support of the Kurdish party, which received about 10% of the vote.

Among the promises is the dismantling of the presidential system that Erdogan installed on parliamentarism.

Why Erdogan lost his power

The Turkish economy is in trouble. High inflation — among the highest in the world, exceeding 80% in 2022 — has eroded household purchasing power.

In addition, Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its response to the earthquake that struck southern Turkey, killing 50,000 people in early 2023. The government has been accused of launching buildings with designs that do not allow for earthquake resistance.

The current election campaign builds on past achievements, as he presents himself as the only politician who can rebuild life after the February 6 earthquake in southern Turkey, which devastated cities and killed more than 50,000 people.

During his campaign rallies, Erdogan has tried to portray the opposition as colluding with “terrorists” as well as foreign powers who wish to harm Turkey. In an effort to solidify his conservative base, he has also accused the opposition of supporting LGBT rights and drunkenness.

In addition, the Turkish president raised public spending ahead of the elections and raised minimum wage and pension values.

Foreign Policy

The elections in Turkey also promise to influence the country’s foreign policy – a topic that has been under the spotlight for several months now.

Erdogan is a former ally of Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, and the way he acted (or failed to act) in the face of the war in Ukraine did not please his NATO colleagues, because the group is not. On the Ukrainian side.

However, if Kilicdaroglu emerges victorious, this scenario may change. On more than one occasion, the candidate has stated that he is interested in strengthening the Turkish state’s relations with NATO and even believes that the country should apply for a place in the European Union.

Regarding the Russian war in Ukraine, Kilicdaroglu emphasized that if elected, he would punish Russia, something Erdogan has not done much about it so far. This would further isolate Moscow on the international stage and could have important repercussions, according to experts.