Turkey will organize two elections simultaneously in June 2023: presidential and parliamentary elections. These elections will not only determine the governing body of the country, but somehow the future of the country as well at its 100th year anniversary. At one side, there is the governing People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) electoral bloc composed of President Erdoğan’s Islamist originated right-wing AK Parti (Justice and Development Party), Turkish nationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party) led by Devlet Bahçeli, and Turkish nationalist-Islamist BBP (Great Unity Party) led by Mustafa Destici. This bloc defends an authoritarian presidentialism and a more nationalist and Islamist country. On the other hand, there is the opposition bloc of Nation Alliance (Millet İttifakı) which includes 6 parties: pro-secular CHP (Republican People’s Party) led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, center-right Good Party (İYİ Parti) led by Meral Akşener – a party split from MHP and began to take steps towards center-right, center-right DP (Demokrat Parti) – a small party led by Gültekin Uysal, Islamist Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi/SP) – a party following Necmettin Erbakan’s National View (Milli Görüş) tradition and chaired by Temel Karamollaoğlu, and two other right-wing parties that were split from the AK Parti: Ali Babacan’s DEVA Party and Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Future Party (Gelecek Partisi). This bloc defends a return to parliamentary system as well as the restoring of the classical Turkish Foreign Policy principles. In that sense, these elections will be battle of two opposing camps/blocs. However, there are some key issues to be known before the elections.
First of all, in 2023 elections, the electoral threshold would be 7 % instead of 10 %. After the 12 September 1980 military coup, in order to stop the strengthening of Islamist and pro-Kurdish political parties, the architects of the system decided to implement 10 % electoral threshold. However, both Islamist and Kurdish movements gained power in time and now they could easily pass 10 %. On the contrary, Turkish nationalist MHP might have a problem with the 10 % electoral threshold according to polls. That is why, in March 2022, Turkish parliament adopted a new law to reduce the electoral threshold to 7 %. The reduced electoral threshold might not change the general picture, but it is still a novelty for Turkish Politics. In the meantime, I should add that the electoral threshold is still too high and it should be reduced to 5 % in the coming years.
Secondly, a new political debate started in Turkey recently about the constitutional guarantees for Islamic dressed women which might heavily affect the outcome of the 2023 elections. The debate came into surface with CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s unexpected statement and CHP’s draft on the legal guarantee for turban (Islamic veil). President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan saw this as an opportunity and proposed a constitutional change to provide constitutional guarantees for Islamic dressing. However, AK Parti and MHP votes in the parliament reach only 334. In that sense, to organize a referendum (360 votes needed) or to amend the constitution (400 votes needed) AK Parti needs CHP deputies’ support. The amendment is arranged in a way that it could open the door for hijab and burka for female public officers in Turkey, which would not be an ideal scenario for the 100th anniversary of the secular republic. In addition, in case CHP refuses to support the amendment, President Erdoğan might use this issue to weaken the opposition during his electoral campaign and take advantage of the already existing cleavages (fault lines) in Turkish Politics.
Thirdly, the Kurdish vote and pro-Kurdish party HDP’s (Peoples’ Democratic Party) choice for the election will be crucial for the outcome. Journalist İsmail Saymaz claims that since its leader Selahattin Demirtaş is jailed, HDP will choose its former Siirt deputy and Diyarbakır mayor Gültan Kışanak as its presidential candidate. In the first round, it is obvious that HDP will contest itself. However, in the second round, HDP will probably support the opposition bloc Nation Alliance’s candidate. In that sense, President Erdoğan’s biggest disadvantage for these elections is his weakness in terms of Kurdish support. However, Erdoğan might use some tactics before the elections to increase his popularity among the Kurds.
Fourthly and most importantly, the opposition bloc’s choice of presidential candidate will be a crucial factor for the result of the elections. CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu wants to become a candidate himself and it seems like thanks to economic problems of the country and Erdoğan’s growing unpopularity, he might have high chances to win the presidential race. However, polls suggest that CHP’s Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş and İstanbul’s mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu are more popular and they have higher chances against Erdoğan compared to Kılıçdaroğlu. Most recently, İmamoğlu is sentenced to more than two years in prison and banned him from politics for calling members of Turkey’s supreme election council “fools” in a press release three years ago after the annulation of the local elections he won it with a slight difference. İmamoğlu won the repeated election with a much larger majority and became a champion of democracy in Turkey. Since then, he has been organizing political events and he has become the new rising star of Turkish Politics. In that sense, this unconfirmed court decision might make İmamoğlu a kind of “new Erdoğan”, an unwanted man of the people taking the control of the system. In fact, many observers in Turkey consider the verdict as an effort to prevent İmamoğlu’s presidency. That is why, after the decision, İYİ Parti leader Meral Akşener came to İstanbul to support İmamoğlu and the duo organized meetings to denounce the unjust court decision. İmamoğlu will appeal to this decision and will do his best to prevent a political ban. However, İmamoğlu’s decision might be confirmed prior to election date. In that sense, the opposition’s choice of the presidential candidate will be the most important decision they must take before the election. Six parties will decide who will be the candidate, but I think the final decision will be taken between Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener. Mansur Yavaş could also be an ideal candidate; but his ultranationalist past and MHP background might alienate leftist and Kurdish voters some analysts claim. Another choice would be to pick up a different candidate like Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu in the 2014 presidential election. If such a decision is made, former President of the Republic Abdullah Gül and CHP’s Eskişehir mayor Yılmaz Büyükerşen could be surprise alternatives.
Lastly, we might talk about the decision of small parties before the elections. These parties might contest in the elections independently or as part of another bloc or they might support one of these two big blocs. In that sense, Ümit Özdağ’s Victory Party (Zafer Partisi), Muharrem İnce’s Homeland Party (Memleket Partisi), Mustafa Sarıgül’s Party for Change in Turkey (Türkiye Değişim Partisi), and Erbakan’s son Fatih Erbakan’s New Welfare Party (Yeniden Refah Partisi) are political parties having some real potential in terms of votes.
Cover Photo: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan-Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu-Meral Akşener-Ekrem İmamoğlu-Mansur Yavaş
Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ
 The phrase used in the proposed amendment is: “dressings that women prefer in relation to their religious beliefs” (kadınların dini inancı nedeniyle tercih ettiği kıyafetler) which can clearly be interpreted as the allowing of the use of hijab and burqa.