Elections in Turkey are exceptionally open this year. What to watch for them?

According to reporters, the pre-election atmosphere in Turkey was characterized by fatigue and tense emotions at the same time. Erdoğan’s camp ultimately blamed the economic and social problems on the refugees and also complained about Western interference. Photo by Ozan Kose, AFP

The adjectives “significant”, “breakthrough” or “most fundamental” are often used in connection with elections. This year’s Turkish ones are justifiably so. The nation of eighty-five million elects its president and parliament on Sunday, May 14. Above all, however, it is decided whether it will continue to be ruled by neo-Ottoman President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his authoritarian policies — or whether Turkey will try to take a different path, closer to the West.

At the same time, two other circumstances add greater importance to this year’s elections: on the one hand, it is widely expected that Erdoğan will strengthen his regime even more after a possible victory, up to to pre-invasion conditions in Russiaso practically already he will not be defeated in the election. On the one hand, the system-disadvantaged opposition is this year, on the contrary, being strengthened by external factors — especially the economic crisis, but also partly the experience of the state’s failure during the February earthquake. The opposition thus has a real and rare opportunity to finally defeat Erdoğan after twenty years.

So what specifically to watch during Sunday’s elections?

1. The possibility of winning already in the first round

After the fiasco in 2018, when Erdoğan won in the first round, the six most important parties of the Turkish opposition agreed on a common electoral procedure. In the presidential part of the election, they are represented by a single candidate — 75-year-old official-economist and leader of the Kemalist CHP Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Thanks to this concentration of forces, it is possible that the presidential part of the election will again be decided by the first round, but this time more in favor of the opposition. Indeed, Kılıçdaroğlu maintains around fifty percent support in the polls — two to three more than Erdoğan.

In Turkey, under Erdoğan’s rule, a system of strong presidency was introduced, in which the head of state chooses government ministers. The position of independent prime minister of the responsible parliament was abolished. If one of the favorites — theoretically, Erdoğan can also win clearly on Sunday — managed to get more than half of the support right away, and the other recognized his victory, that fact would drown out everything else.

According to polls, the presidential candidate of the united opposition had a slight lead before the election. WmC graphics

2. The question of recognition

The question of recognizing the result of the second favorite is as important as the result itself in this year’s elections. If the titularly defeated candidate does not recognize the election as regular, it is likely that his supporters will take to the streets and violence will break out.

As indicated above, the polls are coming out close this year. The atmosphere at the end of the campaign is so heated. And the emotions involved can easily erupt.

Some observers point out that, in the event of an electoral defeat, Erdoğan’s camp in particular may resort to the Trump or Bolsonaro scenario and call the entire election into question, or try to force a repeat of it.

Others, however they object, that the current Turkish regime relies on an official mandate from the elections, and even though the government camp is variously favored in the competition, the votes are counted properly. The results are also respected in Turkey — with some exceptions.

Opposition candidate Kılıçdaroğlu was famous in the past for fighting against Syrian refugees or encouraging the occupation of Greek islands. In recent years, however, he has performed significantly more intelligently. It was he who began to systematically build an opposition coalition of six after 2019. WmC’s photo

3. Accuracy of surveys

Most surveys conducted in recent weeks favor Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. But the difference between him and Erdoğan is tiny. At the same time points outthat civil servants traditionally do not want to answer in Turkish political polls, which, by the way, Erdoğan promised before the elections a forty-five percent increase in salaries.

They also do not include Turks living outside Turkey, who also traditionally support Erdoğan. Theoretically, there may also be a situation where Erdoğan will gain more support than expected and it will not be a fraud, but rather the result of poll deception.

Another important indicator will be voter turnout. Indeed, there are opinions that the recorded support for opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu is partly rather lukewarm.

4. Possible manipulations

There cannot be completely fair elections in Turkey under the current regime — the independent press is liquidated, some politicians are imprisoned, the opposition gets ten times less space in the state media, etc.

Only voting, or counting of votes, but it takes place traditionally in Turkey relatively fraud freealso thanks to thousands of election observers from civil society who voluntarily oversee the regularity of the processes.

However, this year, in this context, specific attention is being paid to the southern regions, which were hit by a devastating earthquake in February. How remind numerous reporters, the electoral infrastructure is not ready here. Potential voters are already complaining that they have to travel to alternative polling stations in distant cities or that there is chaos in registration. All this can be done in the election process itself potentially abused.

5. Voting of key groups

Erdoğan’s AKP has traditionally relied on wealthy businessmen (especially in the construction industry), Islamists, workers, conservative Anatolian voters and, to varying degrees, the Kurds. At the same time, all of these groups have been hit by huge inflation in recent years, reinforced by specific state policies. Officially, it is now 44 percent. In fact, it is estimated i nad sto percent.

The official rate of inflation in Turkey today is 44 percent, but the real rate may be over a hundred. Erdoğan is trying to compensate for this with promises of grandiose programs, projects and investments. Graphics TLDR

Before the elections, Erdoğan and his people tried to beat the socio-economic factor by promising various big investment plans, neo-Ottoman nationalism and defaming the opposition. Specifically, Kılıçdaroğlu was depicted as an alcoholic, a sellout to the West, an ally of — Kurdish communist — terrorists, or a person who would open Turkey to the “culture of homosexuality.”

Similarly, the opposition tried to mobilize before the elections young and first-time voters, Kurds and specifically women. In addition to traditional means, social networks and various local initiatives were used for this purpose. The key question is what will ultimately work more effectively.

6. Distribution of forces after the elections

The opposition coalition of six was able to agree on a common presidential candidate, electoral tactics and program priorities. These are democracy and the rule of law, where the rights of minorities will also be respected, a return to orientation towards the European Union, a more solid economic and social policy, and the change from a strong presidential system to a classic parliamentary one.

However, the opposition parties differ on the specific form of desirable economic and social reforms or the specific form of Kurdish emancipation. Therefore, even if the elections turn out according to the polls and the opposition wins a narrow majority, it is possible that the anti-Erdoğan coalition will begin to disintegrate relatively soon.

Political scientists today they estimate, that the restoration of democracy and prosperity in Turkey will take at least two electoral terms. Therefore, there is also talk of the possibility that Erdoğan, after possibly losing the election, can behave like Benjamin Netanyahu in recent years in Israel or Robert Fico in Slovakia: withdraw into the opposition and from there sharply criticize and anger the fragile anti-Erdoğan coalition — so that he can later return with new forces.

How everything will turn out should be clear on the night from Sunday to Monday. In the case of a very close result, the second presidential round will decide in a fortnight.

Source: Deník referendum by denikreferendum.cz.

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