Colombo May 16: Turkiye held its Presidential and parliamentary elections simultaneously on May 14. According to the Anadolu News Agency, at 6.30 am on Monday, sitting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was leading with 49.27% of the vote; his closest rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, had 45.03%; and Sinan Ogan was a distant third with 5.28%.

It is a close contest but Erdogan has been maintaining a consistent lead. However, he has to get 50% plus to get elected in the first round itself. If he falls short, there will be a runoff with Kilicdaroglu on May 28.

The contest is between three main alliances: 1) The People’s Alliance led by Erdogan 2) the Nation Alliance led by opposition stalwart Kemal Kilicdaroglu 3) the Nationalist Movement Party led by Sinan Ogan.

Of the three, the first two are the most important though the third might force a run-off.

Ideological Confusion

The two main alliances are not ideological opposites. Both are a hodge-podge of ideologies, comprising nationalists, secularists and Islamists. What divides them is their attitude to Erdogan.  One wants Erdogan to stay and the second wants him to go. Erdogan is the main issue in the elections.

Turkish political commentator, Gokhan Cinkara writing in ‘Manara Magazine’ fears that the election will not result in ideological clarity and give a definitive ideological thrust to Turkiye no matter who wins.

Pre-poll Surveys

The other disturbing factor is that none of the groups had been a clear favourite in the pre-poll surveys.

Metropole, a reputable polling firm in Turkey, had done surveys between January 13 and March 14. In January 2023, Erdogan’s support stood at 45.9%, which subsequently declined to 42.7% in February and further to 42% in March.

In January, Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu had garnered 43%, which decreased to 41.4% in February, before rising to 44.6% in March.

Another reputable polling agency, Panaromatr, reported the following results: Recep Tayyip Erdogan with 41.2%, Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu 36.7%, Muharrem ?nce with 12.9%, Sinan Ogan receiving 1.8%.

A growing number of voters criticized the government as well as the opposition, arguing that neither side had presented a viable alternative to the other.

If the opposition emerges victorious in the election, the seven vice presidents and six party leaders in its camp will be required to manage national politics. But according to Cinkara, this situation would be an antithesis to Turkiye’s political culture, which typically favours individual charismatic leaders with strong social support like Kemal Ataturk and Erdogan.

And if the opposition is not able to give a stable government because of the absence of a determined leader like Erdogan in it, Erdogan might come back to power sooner rather than later.

“As micro-scale conflicts of interest between party leaders arise, they have the potential to escalate into macro-scale national political crises, leading to a less stable political landscape,” Cinkara submits.

Parliamentary Elections

Since elections to the Turkiye parliament had also taken place at the same time, the parliament and the Presidency might end up with different alliances, though Erdogan’s AKP is currently in the lead with 266 seats as against Kilicdaroglu’s CHP with 168.

Though Erdogan had reduced the power of parliament vis-à-vis the Presidency through a constitutional amendment, the President would still need parliament to pass bills.

Chinks in Erdogan’s Armor

For Erdogan, the limiting factors are his age, his glaring efforts to subvert democracy, his vain bid to Islamize his country (modernized by Ataturk in the 1920s) and seize the leadership of the global Islamic community (the Umma). He got needlessly involved in the war in Syria.

Erdogan has used the Syrian conflict as a pretext to suppress the rights of the Kurds living in Turkey and limit their parliamentary representation. Successive military operations in Syria have helped Erdogan connect with increasingly nationalistic constituencies in Turkiye.

While his economic policies have triggered unprecedented inflation, his foreign policy has created fissures in NATO of which he is a member.

The opposition disapproves of his anti-US and anti-West posturing. He has alienated the West without gaining the leadership of the Islamic world. The UAE is already with the US. Saudi Arabia and Iran have made up due to the efforts of China. Erdogan’s loyal ally, Pakistan, is in shambles economically and politically.

Good relations built with India, built during the earthquake were spoilt by his open support for Pakistan on the Kashmir issue immediately after the quake.

West Backs Kilicdaroglu 

Geopolitically, the US and the West would certainly hope for the victory of the opposition leader Kilicdaroglu, although he too has deviated from Kemal Ataturk’s secularism to widen his support base and win elections.

As chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kilicdaroglu has transformed the party that founded the Republic of Turkey overthrowing the Ottoman emperor, from a secular organization to one that is diverse, socially democratic and centre-left. This change helped him win the Mayors’ elections in cities including Istanbul and Ankara.

Kilicdaroglu started the change by adding politicians to the party from the pro-Kurdish opposition and Islamist movements, traditionally arch-enemies of the CHP. To make up with the Islamists, he dropped his party’s opposition to women wearing hijabs (headscarves) in universities and public offices and also ended the fight with the government over public expressions of religious belief.

In a radical step, in 2014, he established an electoral alliance with the Turkish nationalist MHP, which during the 1970s was a fierce CHP foe when nationalists and communists killed each other seeking regime change.

“We are social democrats,” Kilicdaroglu had said. “Left and right, these are outdated 18th-century concepts. We can reach an understanding with anyone that loves their country.”

Kilicdaroglu’s foreign policy is relatively unknown. But ‘Middle East Eye’ says that a government under his leadership would reorient Turkey back to the West while maintaining a balanced approach to Russia. The Western media is clearly rooting for Kilicdaroglu.

Although at the moment Erdogan is leading, his victory is not a certainty. If Erdogan does win, he will take it as an endorsement of his domestic and foreign policies. But since the election promises to be a close contest, he might have to make post-election compromises.

But no matter who wins, the fate of Turkiye, policy-wise, remains uncertain. Turkiye will continue to intrigue other powers in both camps.


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