Turkey is bracing itself for a watershed moment as it prepares to hold its most crucial elections in recent history. On Sunday, the nation will elect a new president and parliament, presenting a potential turning point that could mark the end of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's two-decade-long grip on power. However, Erdoğan is not planning to relinquish control without a fight. As the nation stands on the precipice of change, this article explores the key details, significance, and potential outcomes of these elections.
The Electoral Landscape
Erdoğan is facing his most formidable electoral challenge since his ascent to power in 2002. Recent polls indicate a narrow lead for the opposition candidate, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, although the gap has been closing in the final days. If neither candidate secures over 50% of the vote in the first round, a runoff election will take place on May 28th.
A United Opposition
The opposition has rallied behind a coalition comprising six parties, which encompasses secular Kemalists, nationalist right-wing factions, moderate Islamists, and even former allies of Erdoğan, such as his former foreign minister and prime minister. The coalition has also gained support from the pro-Kurdish party, the HDP. This united front was instrumental in the opposition's victory in the 2019 local elections in Istanbul and Ankara.
Challenges and Context
Turkey finds itself at a critical juncture, grappling with a complex economic situation characterized by a plummeting lira and soaring inflation rates, standing at 50.5%. Additionally, the memory of the devastating earthquakes in March, resulting in over 50,000 deaths in Turkey and Syria, lingers in the minds of the populace as they head to the polls.
Heated Campaign Atmosphere
In the final week of the campaign, Erdoğan and his supporters intensified their efforts, resorting to controversial tactics. Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, a prominent opposition leader, was even subjected to a violent attack during a rally. Erdoğan has resorted to inflammatory rhetoric, accusing the opposition of being "pro-LGTBIQ+" and hurling personal insults at Kılıçdaroğlu.
Stakes for Democracy and Turkey's Future
These elections represent an existential crossroads for both Erdoğan and the opposition. It is the first time in two decades that Erdoğan's hold on power is genuinely under threat. His declining popularity, coupled with the country's economic turmoil and his handling of recent crises, has led to a united opposition determined to prevent his continued consolidation of power. Failure to defeat Erdoğan now could lead to further erosion of Turkey's democratic institutions.
National Identity and International Impact
These elections take place against the backdrop of the Turkish Republic's centenary commemoration, symbolizing a clash between two visions of Turkey's identity: Erdoğan's conservative, Islamist Turkey and the secular, Kemalist Turkey embodied by Kılıçdaroğlu.
Moreover, the outcome of the elections will reverberate internationally. Turkey holds significant influence in the Middle East, the Caucasus, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Erdoğan's alignment with Russia and his controversial actions, such as vetoing Sweden's NATO membership, has strained relations with the West. A defeat for Erdoğan could reshape regional dynamics and impact Turkey's role as a mediator in conflicts.
It is highly unlikely that the presidential election will be decided in the first round, given the tight race and the absence of a clear majority for either candidate. Kılıçdaroğlu holds a better chance of winning in a runoff election, but even in the event of an electoral defeat, Erdoğan is unlikely to bow out gracefully.
Erdoğan is known for his tenacity and is expected to utilize all available means to retain power, particularly if he faces a narrow defeat in the second round. He could raise allegations of electoral fraud, mobilize his grassroots supporters, and challenge the results through legal avenues. The potential for civil unrest, akin to the events witnessed during the assault on the U.S. Capitol in 2021 or the Brazilian Congress in 2022, cannot be overlooked.
However, the implications of a Turkey without Erdoğan would be far-reaching. Despite their differences, all opposition parties share a common aversion to Erdoğan's leadership. If Kılıçdaroğlu assumes power, he will need to navigate the complexities of managing divergent interests within his coalition and his party. This could pose challenges to the implementation of his proposed measures, such as reconciliation with the Kurdish population and the potential dismantling of the presidential regime.
On the international front, a post-Erdoğan Turkey would likely witness significant shifts. Ankara would seek to improve relations with Europe and NATO while maintaining a cautious approach towards Russia. However, reactivating Turkey's stalled process of accession to the European Union appears highly improbable.
In conclusion, Turkey stands on the precipice of a historic moment as it heads into crucial elections that could potentially mark the end of Erdoğan's long-standing rule. The united opposition poses a formidable challenge, with the Turkish population yearning for change amidst economic struggles and recent calamities.
Beyond the domestic implications, the international community closely watches these elections, considering Turkey's pivotal role in regional dynamics. Regardless of the outcome, the aftermath of the elections will undoubtedly shape Turkey's political landscape and reverberate beyond its borders, impacting both its democratic trajectory and its global relationships.