Crucial Turkish elections



May 13, 2023

Crucial Turkish Elections

Nabeel Zafar talks about an important electoral contest

Crucial Turkish Elections – Politics in Turkey have been centred round the person of Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is colloquially called the Sultan and is as arbitrary as the host of Ottoman sultans that ruled his country for over six centuries. From a common background he came to power two decades ago appearing to followers in his country as well the outside world as a moderate, pro-Western, pro-business reformer who would be a bulwark against Islamist extremism. He reigned supreme throughout his long stint in power and, true to the chameleon-like political maneuverings in the region he belongs, altered constitutional provisions that retained him in power as president and prime minister one after the other. Another fetish the rulers of his region suffer from is to be recognised as leader of the Islamic world and, in the process, provoked ire of the Gulf monarchies spearheaded by Saudi Arabia.

The presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey are rated by many commentators as far from being fair but real and still competitive. At the moment the predictions are that President Erdogan has the odds in his favour but no outcome is impossible given the recent dynamism among the opposition parties. If none of the presidential candidates win a majority in the first round, a second round will take place on 8 July between the two candidates who received the most votes. As a result of recent changes in Turkish election law, alliances in the parliamentary elections are now possible. Two new alliances will compete in the parliamentary elections: the People’s Alliance, formed by the governing Justice and Development Party (AKParty) and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and the Nation Alliance, formed by the social democratic Republican People’s Party (CHP), the newly founded moderate nationalist Good Party (İYİParty), the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), and the center-right Democrat Party. The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), excluded from either alliance, will run alone.

Many international observers and Turkish commentators argue that the elections are a done deal and that there is no way President Erdogan will lose either the presidential election or a majority in the parliament. Some argue that as an experienced politician he would not have called for early elections if he was not sure he would win. Others argue that the elections will take place on such an uneven playing field that opposition voices will not even be heard. Some even argue that what comes out of the ballot box will be very different from what goes in, or that President Erdogan will not leave office even if he loses. However, there is less clarity regarding the parliamentary elections and a divided parliament is quite possible. While the authorities of the parliament have been crippled by last year’s constitutional referendum, which gave the president the upper hand on most issues, the parliament has a very important symbolic and moral authority in the country. Even in the absence of formal powers the parliament will continue to carry weight in Turkish politics. In the case of a divided parliament, the president — whoever is elected — will need to accommodate parliamentary will. If the president fails to do this he will have to govern under immense political and societal tension.

However, it is also pointed out that Erdogan’s sagging popularity ahead of elections attests to many Turks’ disillusionment with the highly personalised autocracy Erdogan has constructed, built on repression, the subjugation of dissenting views and once-independent institutions and a deepening contempt for human rights and democratic norms. Though his actions revived the Turkish economy in the beginning of his rule but lately it is observed that his mismanagement of the economy, one of the world’s 20 biggest, has eroded living standards, decimated the Turkish lira’s value and sent inflation soaring. It is not surprising therefore that many Turks are angry with the result that his opponent widely known to be a colourless former bureaucrat, has managed to lead the polls.

It is also commented that elections are also a test of the capacity of democratic elections to throw off the yoke of Erdogan’s increasingly one-man rule in a country of 85 million people. The stakes could hardly be higher, first and foremost for Turks themselves, who might justifiably worry that authoritarianism would yield to dictatorship if Erdogan wins another term. There are other concerns to address such as his country’s relations with its European allies and the United States. Erdogan, 69, governs a strategically key nation in NATO with the alliance’s second-biggest military. He has fashioned a role for himself as a sort of middleman between NATO, to which he is bound by treaty, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, with whom he maintains ties that have undercut the Western alliance even as it is engaged in an indirect war to repel Russia’s ruinous aggression in Ukraine.

As is his wont, his double game is centred around his intention to play one side against the other and elevate his stature and in this context he has devised strategies aimed at gaining favour of both sides in Russia-Ukraine conflict. In the process he has supplied drones that have been crucial to Ukraine’s defense; blocked Russian warships from the Black Sea; and helped broker a deal that lifted a Russian blockade of Ukrainian grain and other food exports. At the same time, he is suspected of being a key conduit for goods transshipped to Moscow that have circumvented Western sanctions and bolstered Putin’s forces, including sensitive technology, electronics and vehicle components used by the military. In return, Russia has showered Turkiye with billions of dollars worth of help as well as having financial backing from other authoritarian states, including China and Saudi Arabia.

A charismatic leader Erdogan has ruled by stoking divisions, including between religious and secular Muslims. He has jailed political opponents, journalists and others who had the temerity to criticise him and constricted the space for Turkey’s once-vibrant civil society to thrive and this campaign of repression has intensified since a failed coup attempt in July 2016. Turkish courts have become instruments for his retribution as fabricated criminal charges are routinely used to silence dissent. Independent media organisations have been largely muzzled. In public, many Turks are afraid to speak their minds restrained by government’s actions to include dimly defined crime of disseminating misleading information that was recently enshrined in a law. It is quite obvious that institutions buckled under his pressure. A prime example is Turkey’s central bank, which lowered interest rates at Erdogan’s behest, fueling inflation that exceeded 85% last year. His interventions have caused the Turkish currency to lose 80 per cent of its value over five years.

Erdogan’s opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, is a low-key former civil servant who represents a six-party coalition that has banded together in hopes of unseating Erdogan. He has pledged to serve a single term in which he would reunite Turkey’s increasingly fractious polity. He says he would do so by rolling back constitutional changes that Erdogan has used to consolidate power and by resurrecting the independence of the central bank, courts and diplomatic corps. Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party has lost elections for years to Erdogan but now many Turks regard Kilicdaroglu’s lack of charisma as less relevant than the promise he represents to restore the tolerance, pluralism and respect for human rights and economic common sense. The Weekender

Nabeel Zafar works in the
private sector 


The writ of international law
The writ of international law
M Ali Siddiqi looks at a crucial...
Resurgence of fascism
Resurgence of fascism
M Ali Siddiqi describes a dangerous...
President Xi Jinping
XI on his way to ruling China for life
M Ali Siddiqi talks about apparent...
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
Governance and equitable distribution of resources
M Ali Siddiqi talks about Governance...
The Need For Pakistan
The Need For Pakistan
M A Siddiqi expresses surprise...
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
The Presence And Essence Of Pakistaniat
M Ali Siddiqi describes a strong...

Get Newsletters


Subscribe Us