Türkiye’s presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14th and May 28th marked a pivotal moment in the country’s political landscape. The outcome will have far-reaching implications for the country’s future. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power for more than two decades as the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was at the center of the electoral stage. I will try to provide a detailed analysis of the facts surrounding the election, and the potential consequences it holds for Türkiye and the international community.
Erdogan’s long rule and its implications:
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ruled Türkiye for more than 20 years, and his rule has left a significant mark on Türkiye’s government and economy. Over the years, his tenure has been marked by both successes and challenges. In recent years, however, there have been growing concerns.
One of the key areas of impact of Erdoğan’s rule has been the Turkish economy. While the early years of his leadership were marked by remarkable economic growth and an increase in stability, the later years have been marked by economic challenges. Recently, Türkiye has faced a decline in income and a spike in hyperinflation. This has led to financial hardship for many citizens.
The economic difficulties can be attributed, at least in part, to what critics argue are the irrational economic policies that have been pursued by the Erdoğan government. These policies have created economic imbalances and vulnerabilities by focusing on short-term gains rather than long-term sustainability. The mismanagement of the economy has undermined investor confidence, led to a depreciation of the Turkish lira, and further exacerbated inflationary pressures.
These economic problems have had significant consequences for Turkish people. The standard of living for many individuals and families has deteriorated as incomes have fallen. It has become increasingly difficult for ordinary citizens to afford basic necessities as the cost of living has increased. This has widened income disparities and exacerbated social inequalities, particularly for vulnerable segments of society.
In addition, rising hyperinflation has eroded the purchasing power of the Turkish lira. This has further burdened households and affected their ability to meet their financial obligations. As prices rise, people have been forced to make difficult choices and cut back on spending, leading to a decline in consumption and overall economic activity.
The impact of these economic challenges extends beyond individual households. Businesses, both large and small, have struggled to adapt to unstable economic conditions, resulting in layoffs, closures and reduced investment. The lack of confidence in the economy has also deterred foreign investors, leading to a decline in foreign direct investment and hampering economic growth.
Earthquakes and Failed Government Response:
In the months leading up to the May 14, 2023 elections in Türkiye, the country faced a number of significant challenges, including two major earthquakes that struck the southeastern region in February. The occurrence of these earthquakes and the government’s subsequent response had a significant impact on the political landscape and added to the complexity of the electoral environment for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
The earthquakes that struck the provinces of Kahramanmaraş, Osmaniye, Kilis, Şanlıurfa, Gaziantep, Diyarbakır, Adıyaman, Hatay, Adana, and Malatya on February 6 caused widespread devastation, resulting in more than 50,000 deaths, injuries, and extensive damage to infrastructure and property. The earthquakes were among the most severe to hit the region in a century. They created a sense of urgency and demanded swift and effective government action.
However, there was intense scrutiny and widespread criticism of the government’s response to the earthquakes. Critics argued that the government’s efforts to manage the earthquake aftermath were inadequate and insufficient to meet the immediate needs of affected populations. There were reports of frustration and anger among those affected by the earthquakes due to delays in the provision of emergency assistance, including rescue operations, medical aid, and shelter.
The perceived lack of transparency and accountability in the government’s response was also criticized. There were allegations of mismanagement of relief funds and resources. Concerns were raised about the equitable distribution of aid. Public dissatisfaction and confidence were further undermined by the slow pace of reconstruction and the perceived inadequacy of assistance to affected communities.
The government’s handling of the earthquakes became a major issue in the run-up to the elections. Opposition parties and civil society groups capitalized on the discontent and used it to highlight what they perceived as the government’s incompetence and failure to manage the crisis.
Opposition alliance and public expectations:
In the run-up to the May 14, 2023 elections in Türkiye, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the main opposition party, worked diligently to forge a diverse and inclusive alliance to challenge Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s long-standing rule. This opposition coalition brought together different segments of society, ranging from liberal-minded individuals to educated segments disillusioned with the current state of affairs in Türkiye.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s ability to build such a broad alliance demonstrated his political acumen and strategic approach. He recognized the need to unite diverse factions around a common goal. He actively sought to mobilize various opposition parties, grassroots movements and civil society organizations. Driven by concerns about the state of the economy, democratic governance, and the erosion of civil liberties, the alliance was characterized by a shared desire for change.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s opposition alliance positioned itself as an alternative to Erdoğan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), promising to address economic challenges and enact policies that would benefit the majority. This resonated with the liberal and educated segments of the population, who had long been advocates of a more inclusive and equitable economic agenda.
Moreover, the opposition alliance was also seen as a vehicle for the preservation of democratic values and the strengthening of the rule of law in Türkiye. There had been growing concerns about the erosion of democratic institutions, restrictions on freedom of expression, and an increasingly polarized political climate under the rule of Erdoğan. For those seeking a return to a more pluralistic and inclusive political landscape, the opposition’s emphasis on democratic governance and civil liberties struck a chord.
Results of the Parliamentary Elections:
A collective desire for change and the belief that the opposition alliance represented a viable alternative capable of addressing the country’s pressing problems drove public expectations for a significant defeat of Erdoğan in the elections. Liberal and educated segments of the population hoped that the alliance’s broad support would translate into a strong electoral performance, signaling a shift in the political landscape and paving the way for a new era of governance in Türkiye.
However, the high expectations for the opposition alliance were not met in the election results. Despite its efforts and widespread discontent over the economic situation, the AKP-MHP alliance led by Erdoğan managed to regain its majority in parliament. Although Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy won a significant share of the vote, it fell short of the electoral victory that had been expected.
The outcome of the elections highlighted the complexity of the political landscape and the challenges of unseating an incumbent leader who has been in power for nearly 20 years. Despite the alliance’s efforts to build a broad coalition and address the concerns of different segments of society, it failed to fully resonate with a significant portion of the electorate. This suggests that support for Erdoğan and his party goes beyond economic considerations and reflects a broader set of factors, including identity, ideology, and historical narratives.
Presidential Election and Candidates:
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s near-miss in securing the presidency with 49.5% of the vote marked a significant moment in the electoral process. While falling short of the majority needed for an outright victory, Erdoğan’s strong showing underscored his enduring popularity among a significant portion of the electorate. His ability to rally support and maintain a significant share of the vote is a testament to his political acumen and the enduring appeal of the nationalist-conservative bloc.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition candidate, faced high expectations as the leader of the opposition alliance challenging Erdoğan’s rule. However, he fell short of those expectations, winning 44.9 percent of the vote. This result highlights the challenges the opposition faces in mobilizing support and appealing to a diverse electorate. The opposition will need to critically evaluate its messaging, campaign strategies, and policy platforms to better connect with voters and broaden its appeal.
One surprising element of the election was the performance of Sinan Oğan, the candidate of the ultra-nationalist Zafer Party. Although initially considered a long shot, Oğan secured 5.2% of the vote. Although Oğan is no longer in the race, his influence on the electorate could prove decisive in the second round of the presidential election. With his ability to sway a significant portion of the voters who supported him, Oğan has emerged as a potential kingmaker who holds the key to shaping the outcome of the election.
The role of a kingmaker should not be underestimated. While Oğan may not have secured a significant share of the vote, his ability to influence voters and potentially support a candidate in the second round can have a significant impact on the dynamics of the election. Oğan’s support and endorsement can potentially sway a significant number of voters and determine the outcome of the election. This puts him in a position of considerable power and influence, even though he is not a frontrunner.
As the presidential election enters its second round, attention will now shift to the strategies and maneuvers of the remaining candidates. They will undoubtedly try to woo the supporters of Oğan and other candidates who did not make it to the second round, recognizing the importance of securing their support and consolidating their electoral base.
The influence of Oğan and his supporters may go beyond their electoral impact. The position that Oğan has taken in terms of aligning himself with an ultranationalist agenda brings to the fore the role and importance of nationalist sentiment in Turkish politics. The presence of a significant nationalist voting bloc can shape the discourse, policies, and alliances of candidates in the second round. Candidates will need to carefully navigate these dynamics and balance their appeal to different segments of the electorate.
Shifts in Public Opinion:
The recent elections in Türkiye have revealed a notable shift in public opinion, reflecting a move toward right-wing ideologies. Several factors have contributed to this shift, including the economic crisis, the ongoing pandemic, and the impact of the recent earthquakes. As a result, political parties espousing liberal values and a pro-Western stance have struggled to gain significant support from the electorate.
The economic crisis that has plagued Türkiye in recent years has had a profound effect on public sentiment. Declining incomes and rising hyperinflation have created an atmosphere of economic uncertainty and hardship for many citizens. In such times, there is often a tendency for people to seek stability and security in strong leadership and conservative ideologies. This has played into the hands of parties and candidates who emphasize traditional values, national pride, and an assertive approach to governance.
The ongoing pandemic has also influenced public opinion and political dynamics in Türkiye. Like many countries, Türkiye has faced the daunting challenge of managing the health crisis and its socioeconomic consequences. In times of crisis, people often turn to leaders who project strength and authority, even if it means sacrificing some civil liberties or adopting more conservative policies. This has contributed to a shift toward right-wing ideologies that emphasize strong leadership and decisive action.
In addition, the impact of the recent earthquakes in the country has had a profound effect on public sentiment. These natural disasters have highlighted the importance of stability, security and a sense of national unity. In such times, people tend to rally around leaders who project a strong image of resilience and provide reassurance in the face of adversity. This has favored candidates and parties that prioritize national interests and conservative values.
The rise of right-wing nationalism has appealed to segments of the population that perceive Western influence as a threat to Turkish sovereignty and cultural identity. This sentiment has been fueled by geopolitical tensions and the perception that Western powers have not always acted in Türkiye’s best interests. As a result, parties advocating a pro-Western stance have struggled to resonate with a significant portion of the electorate.
Moreover, the role of the media and political discourse in shaping public opinion cannot be overlooked. The dominance of conservative narratives and the portrayal of liberal values as foreign or detrimental to national interests have further contributed to the declining support for pro-Western parties.
However, it is important to note that public opinion is not monolithic, and there are still segments of the population that hold liberal values and support a pro-Western orientation. These individuals may be more concentrated in urban areas, among the educated, and among younger demographics. The challenge for parties espousing liberal values and a pro-Western stance is to effectively mobilize and connect with these segments of the population in order to build a broader base of support.
Implications of the second round:
The upcoming second round of the presidential election, scheduled for May 28, 2023, is of paramount importance for Türkiye’s future trajectory. Since 2018, Türkiye has been governed under a robust presidential system that grants significant powers to the elected president. If Erdoğan is re-elected, Türkiye is likely to distance itself from the West. An approval rating of 55% or higher would give Erdoğan a mandate to pursue ambitious policies that could potentially move Türkiye away from NATO and the EU and toward closer alignment with Russia and China. In contrast, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s platform emphasizes strengthening Türkiye’s ties with NATO and the European Union.
The outcome of the May 28 presidential election extends beyond Türkiye’s borders and has the potential to affect not only the entire region but also the global community. The realignment of Türkiye’s foreign policy orientation could have far-reaching consequences for international alliances and global dynamics.
The importance of the May 28 presidential election cannot be overstated. It represents a critical juncture in Türkiye’s future trajectory, with the elected president wielding considerable power within the presidential system. Whether Erdoğan secures another term or Kılıçdaroğlu emerges victorious, the outcome will shape the direction of the country.
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