Erdogan leading heading into runoff
In the lead-up to Turkey’s significant presidential election, most polls indicated that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was trailing behind opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
However, after more than 99% of votes were counted on Sunday, Erdogan was revealed to be leading by a considerable margin, with 49.51% of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu had secured 44.89%, according to electoral chief Ahmet Yener. As neither candidate received more than 50% of the vote, a run-off will take place on May 28.
Polls leading up to the election had varied widely, with some showing Kilicdaroglu in the lead and others showing Erdogan ahead. Al Jazeera reported that polls in Turkey were generally unreliable and often politicized, leading to accusations of bias and attempts to influence voters.
The election was held amid a deepening cost-of-living crisis and rampant inflation, which had led to criticism of Erdogan’s government. Despite this, Erdogan has not lost an election since 1994 when he became mayor of Istanbul.
With the ruling majority maintaining their lead in parliament and Erdogan’s lead being significant, any chances of a win for the opposition are looking increasingly slim. Nevertheless, on Monday, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), expressed confidence that the opposition would win the second round of Turkey’s presidential elections. Speaking alongside leaders of the other parties in his alliance, Kılıçdaroğlu praised the high voter turnout and stated that the incumbent did not receive the result he wanted. With 99% of ballot boxes counted, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led with 49.4% of votes, and Kılıçdaroğlu had secured 44.96%, according to Supreme Election Council Chair Ahmet Yener.
Nationalist candidate Sinan Oğan, who won 5.2% of the vote, could play a decisive role in the runoff if he chooses to endorse one of the two remaining candidates. However, it seems that the voters from Ogan will vote for Erdogan in the second round, especially due to the CHP’s alliance with the Kurdish HDP.
Despite the disappointing outcome, Kılıçdaroğlu vowed to continue fighting for Turkey and to bring democracy, justice, and the rule of law to the country. He campaigned on promises to reverse democratic backsliding and to address the economic challenges facing Turkey.
The governing AK Party garnered the most seats in parliament, despite losing a number of seats. Despite that, Erdogan’s alliance has still managed to secure a majority in the 600-seat parliament.
Implications on Turkish foreign policy in the Middle East
Erdogan’s victory would generally mean a continuation of his foreign policy, especially the bold moves that have characterized it, shifting Turkish alliances away from the West and towards a more independent and even East-leaning foreign policy. Erdogan’s foreign policy of reapproachment in the Middle East will most probably continue, and the peace process in Syria will be led by Turkey.
According to Sami Hamdi, the managing director of International Interest, a political risk firm that focuses on the Middle East, Erdogan’s policies have a dual purpose: increasing Turkey’s soft power and continuing the Ottoman Empire’s legacy, which once ruled the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans for centuries.
Hamdi notes that Erdogan’s assertive nature has unsettled the major powers that are accustomed to Turkey’s historical role as a supporting actor. Meanwhile, Erdogan’s ability to capitalize on Islamic soft power through his “Muslim” rhetoric has enabled him to expand Turkey’s influence politically and economically in multiple regions.
Sami Hamdi, the managing director at International Interest, a political risk firm focused on the Middle East, stated that Erdogan’s policies aim to boost Turkey’s soft power, particularly in the Muslim world, which is consistent with the Ottoman Empire’s legacy. The empire had control over vast areas in the Middle East, North Africa, and the Balkans for centuries. According to Hamdi, Erdogan’s assertiveness has made the major powers uncomfortable, as they are more accustomed to Turkey playing a supporting role in the past. Turkey’s expanding influence is linked to Erdogan’s ability to capitalize on Islamic soft power through his “Muslim” rhetoric, which has enabled him to rapidly advance in multiple regions both politically and economically.
Under Erdogan’s foreign policy, Turkey has demonstrated its military might by intervening in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and beyond in Azerbaijan. Turkey’s military actions in Iraq and Syria have focused on eradicating perceived threats linked to the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has been fighting against the Turkish state for decades. Turkey has fought against predominantly Kurdish forces in northern Iraq for years and has taken control of several areas along its borders with Syria to crush the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the US-backed forces Ankara views as an offshoot of the PKK. In Libya, Turkey intervened to support the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) against eastern-based forces. In 2020, Turkey also supported Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict against Armenia.
The CHP, on the other hand, has pledged to adopt a non-interventionist role and reverse course, according to the party’s platform. The platform states that the party will respect the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of the countries in the Middle East, not interfere in their internal affairs, and will not take sides in their problems but facilitate solutions. Erdogan has already started normalizing ties with Arab states, a process that would likely continue under the opposition since Turkey’s relationships with Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates deteriorated after Ankara supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and elsewhere during the Arab uprisings in 2011.