The Republic of Turkey is heading for double elections on June 18, 2023 on its 100th anniversary; presidential election and parliamentary election. This means that there is almost a year left until the elections and political parties and candidates should start making necessary preparations. In this critical conjuncture, Turkish politics is very active and exciting these days with alternative views and programmes. Although Turkey has begun to be considered as a “not-free” country in recent years by the Freedom House, in fact the existence of different political parties, leaders, and programmes show that democracy might still prevail in this country. In this piece, I am going to summarize most recent political developments in Turkey.
The most spoken issue in Turkey in recent months is of course the economic crisis. Turkey’s annual inflation is announced as 70 % recently, which might tell us how the loss of purchasing power of people decreased significantly in recent months. Of course, coupled with the depreciation of Turkish lira against U.S. Dollar and Euro in recent years, this has a terrible effect on people and it might distance average voter from the current government and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan regime. Although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan still shows and performs his immense skills of populism, this might not be enough this time due to the ongoing economic crisis. In the meantime, Erdoğan continues to keep his electoral coalition People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) with ultranationalist parties MHP (Nationalist Action Party) and BBP (Great Unity Party).
Another popular theme in Turkish politics is the situation of Syrian migrants. Recently, an anti-immigration party was established in Turkey by Professor of Political Science and nationalist academic Ümit Özdağ (1961-): Victory Party (Zafer Partisi). Son of the leading putschist of the 27 May 1960 military intervention staff captain Muzaffer Özdağ, Ümit Özdağ was a popular nationalist academic from Gazi University and a well-known figure within the Turkish nationalist MHP. However, after challenging party leader Devlet Bahçeli, he resigned from party and joined Meral Akşener’s Good Party (İYİ Parti). Özdağ also resigned from İYİ Parti recently and established Victory Party. Although not much chance is given to him for elections, it is for sure that his anti-immigration policies appeal to ordinary people who are upset due to economic conditions within the country in recent years. Özdağ blames Syrian migrants of theft and abuse and claims that they would send all migrants to Syria forcefully. Özdağ also engaged in a battle words with Turkey’s Minister of Interior Süleyman Soylu recently. Özdağ represents far-right tradition and Turkish Trumpism in this critical conjuncture. What is surprising is that, Özdağ’s policies also find support among the secular social-democratic CHP (Republican People’s Party). For instance, CHP’s Bolu mayor Tanju Özcan began to implement ten times more expensive prices for water to Syrian migrants and CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced a plan to send all Syrian migrants in two years. Of course, huge immigration in short time span is a major problem for all countries. However, we must be careful not to blame victims of the war (in this case, people who escaped from the brutality of the Syrian regime and ISIS terrorism) and as international public, we should do our best to help Syrian migrants. It must not be forgotten that Turks also migrated to Anatolia from different geographies and they are not one of the autochthon peoples of Anatolia.
Ekrem İmamoğlu and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
Another dynamic party of Turkish politics is CHP. CHP won many municipalities of metropolitan cities in 2019 local elections and consolidated its power. CHP’s Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş became two new political stars within the country. İmamoğlu recently organized a trip to his hometown Karadeniz region (Artvin, Rize, and Trabzon) as he was the declared official candidate of the opposition. This trip took both positive and negative reactions from the media; especially İmamoğlu’s choice of inviting pro-Erdoğan journalist Nagehan Alçı took harsh criticism from opposition circles. At the same time, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu announced that he wants to become the presidential candidate of the Nation’s Alliance (Millet İttifakı). Kılıçdaroğlu even said that “either support me or clear the way”. Since the opposition bloc insists on a transition (return) to parliamentary system, they should carefully choose their Presidential and Prime Minister candidates in this critical conjuncture. CHP’s biggest advantage before the elections is the continuation of the bloc of 6 parties; CHP, İYİ Parti, Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi), Democrat Party (DP), Future Party (Gelecek Partisi), and DEVA Party. However, a few days before, CHP’s provincial head in Istanbul, Canan Kaftancıoğlu was sentenced to prison. Kaftancıoğlu is often praised for her organizational capacity to avoid electoral fraud in Istanbul and pointed out as the architect of İmamoğlu’s stunning victory back in 2019.
Finally, I think we should expect more moves on the side of the government and opposition in the coming months. President Erdoğan might try to use the card of nationalism and take advantage of the closure of the pro-Kurdish HDP (Peoples’ Democratic Party). Erdoğan might also use classical tactics of cultural war between Islamism and secularism to consolidate the conservative bloc. The opposition bloc on the other hand might choose the appropriate candidate and begin working on a new and liberal programme in order to avoid ideological side slip.
Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 See; https://freedomhouse.org/country/turkey/freedom-world/2022.
 For an academic study on this, see; https://dergi.bilgi.edu.tr/index.php/reflektif/article/view/97/78.
 For its website, see; https://zaferpartisi.org.tr/.