Upcoming Turkish elections
The upcoming election in Turkey on May 14 could potentially have a significant impact on the country’s domestic direction, neighboring countries, and the global power balance. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power for two decades, is facing a real challenge from a united opposition bloc and an anti-Erdoğan majority. This is the first time Erdoğan has faced such a challenge.
The atmosphere leading up to the election is highly polarized, and citizens will have the opportunity to express their views on a range of issues, including Erdoğan’s economic policies, regional concerns, and the government’s response to the February 6 earthquake. However, the most critical decision citizens will make is whether to continue Erdoğan’s mandate or to give the opposition coalition, which has pledged to prioritize the rule of law and parliamentary system, a chance to lead.
The Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections will see two main political coalitions competing against each other. The People’s Alliance comprises the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), while the Nation Alliance consists of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the historic Kemalist party, the nationalist Good Party, and four smaller, generally conservative parties. Though the Nation Alliance’s only common ground is their opposition to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, they have pledged to restore a parliamentary system of government within two years if they win.
In the past, predicting electoral outcomes in the weeks leading up to the polls has been relatively easy, but Turkey’s political landscape has undergone a significant shift in the past year, making it more challenging to assess the fortunes of the two major coalitions.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of CHP, has emerged as the joint presidential candidate for the Nation Alliance. Although he is a well-known political figure, he lacks a track record of accomplishments that could convince voters of his ability to handle Turkey’s domestic and diplomatic challenges. Additionally, the ideological diversity within his coalition may hinder his presidential aspirations. To gain the support of his coalition, Kilicdaroglu has promised to appoint a vice-president from each of the five member parties and actively involve them in strategic decisions and policies.
Who is the favorite?
Despite being a soft-spoken former civil servant, 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu has emerged as the strongest contender yet to unseat Turkey’s long-standing leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kilicdaroglu, who is pronounced Kilitch-daro-lu, is the opposite of Erdogan in terms of his modest approach to politics. He has faced several electoral losses since taking over the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2010 after his predecessor resigned due to an extramarital affair. Despite this, he has been chosen as the candidate to lead a coalition of six opposition parties to challenge Erdogan’s ruling AK Party.
Kilicdaroglu is a seasoned politician who has survived numerous violent attacks and earned the reputation of being one of Turkey’s most-targeted politicians. He was first elected in 2002, the same year Erdogan’s party came to power, and since then, he has worked to broaden the appeal of his party by embracing diversity in the country. Despite not being an obvious candidate, Kilicdaroglu’s vast experience and leadership have made him the preferred choice to take on Erdogan in the upcoming elections.
The Republican People’s Party (CHP) traces its roots back to Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey and a staunch advocate for secularism. Historically, the CHP had close ties to the military, which has carried out four coups in Turkey since 1960. As a result, the party has been known for its hardline stance on the separation of religion and state. Following the military coup in 1980, for instance, the CHP backed the prohibition of headscarves in schools and public institutions.
As Turkey’s critical elections draw near, pollsters predict that the outcome of the closely contested race will be determined by the roughly 15% of voters who have yet to decide or are unsettled in their choices. This group, which includes many first-time voters, is increasingly becoming the focus of the campaign leading up to the May 14 elections. Political parties are scrambling to win over these undecided voters in the parliamentary elections, while those who have already made up their minds but are unhappy with their choices will be the decisive factor in the presidential poll. These voters have the potential to sway the election results, making them a crucial target for all political parties in the final stretch of the campaign.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is likely to be pleased by the results of two recent surveys conducted two weeks apart, as he seeks another term in office against a stronger opposition. The most recent survey, conducted by Areda between April 12-14 with a sample of 10,136 people, shows Erdogan leading with 50.8% of the vote, while the main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu trails with 43.1%. The only candidate without alliance backing, Muharrem Ince, is predicted to win just 4.5% of the vote, while far-right candidate Sinan Ogan is at 1.6%.
In the event of a two-round election, respondents overwhelmingly favored Erdogan, with 52.6% saying they would vote for him in the second round. Kilicdaroglu also gained support in the same scenario, with 47.4% saying they would back him. Compared to the March 28-April 1 survey, Erdogan’s support has increased slightly by 0.2% in the latest poll. Other polls however, are more favorable to Kilicardoglu.
Would Turkish foreign policy change?
Erdoğan’s foreign policy, which has been a hallmark of his years in power, is giving way to a new policy based on realism. To increase his chances of winning a new presidential term, efforts are being made to portray Erdoğan as a leader who is loved in the region.
Historically, Turkish foreign policy has focused on using foreign resources for development, forging alliances and partnerships, and enhancing Turkey’s position in the modern world.
According to General Mohamed Abdel Wahid, an Egyptian strategic expert, Erdoğan has shown great flexibility in handling his foreign problems in less than a year. Abdel Wahid told Fanack that Erdoğan has completely reversed Turkey’s foreign relations, resulting in zero problems.
When asked which side the Arab world should take, Abdel Wahid noted that Erdoğan has successfully resolved conflicts with countries that previously had issues with Turkey by connecting with them through long-term economic interests. He added that Erdoğan’s Islamist party is more appealing to the Islamic world than Kılıçdaroğlu’s secularist party founded by Atatürk.
However, would Kilicardoglu significantly change this? Kilicdaroglu has been seeking media attention by making several high-profile announcements. Among them, he pledged to secure visa-free travel for Turkish citizens in Europe within three months of assuming office. He also issued a warning to Greece, indicating the possibility of Turkish armed intervention. Furthermore, he recently embarked on visits to the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.
If the specifics may be uncertain, the overall direction of the opposition’s foreign policy is clear. Unal Cevikoz, a retired ambassador and chief foreign affairs adviser to Kilicdaroglu, explained that a new government under the opposition would prioritize normalizing relationships with the international community, the European Union, and NATO. Cevikoz stated that the opposition’s foreign policy would be based on “non-intervention of domestic affairs of neighbors, impartial foreign policy, and adherence to international norms.”
The opposition has criticized Erdogan’s use of hard power in Libya and promised to be an “honest broker” in talks with all sides of the conflict. However, it will be challenging to achieve this goal in practice. In Syria, the opposition has promised to send all Syrian refugees back home, engage with President Bashar al-Assad, and correct the policy of taking sides in the civil war simultaneously. When asked about the fate of Assad’s opponents, who Turkish troops are currently protecting in Idlib, an opposition official admitted that it would take time to gain Damascus’s trust and disentangle from Idlib.
Regarding Ukraine, Kilicdaroglu stated that Turkey should support Ukraine in the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, there was pushback from his own party, and the parliamentary group deputy chairman emphasized that Turkey’s current balanced approach is correct. Opposition officials agreed that Ankara should continue to act as a mediator but should not join EU sanctions.
The opposition coalition’s main policy will most probably retreat from the region and reach out to the US, EU, and NATO. While a less strained relationship with Europe makes sense, EU membership is unlikely given the long-standing queue for membership. The article also notes that it is essential for the Middle East to have strong states willing to exercise their independence, which is what Erdogan has achieved, despite his mistakes. The article concludes that losing this would not only be a disaster for Turkey but also for the region.