Türkiye (Turkey) is heading towards presidential and parliamentary elections on the 100th year anniversary of the foundation of the Republic with a lot of question marks. In this piece, I am going to analyze most recent domestic political issues in Türkiye and comment on whether the opposition can win the election or not.
Elections at a time of many uncertainties
First of all, unfortunately, Turkish elections are approaching at a time of great uncertainties. To begin with, the date of the elections is not determined yet. Before the terrible earthquake on February 6, 2023, President Erdoğan declared his intention to hold the elections on May 14 in order to pay respect to Türkiye’s transition into multiparty democracy via the first free and fair parliamentary elections on 14 May 1950. On the other hand, elections (presidential + parliamentary election) are normally scheduled for 18 June. Until now, the opposition bloc has always wanted elections to be held as soon as possible.
Second uncertainty is about whether President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could become a candidate or not. Normally, a politician has a limit of only two mandates for Presidency according to the Article 101 of the Turkish constitution. Erdoğan was elected President of the Republic first in 2014 and later in 2018 and already served two terms. Here, some legal experts and political scientists claim that since the political regime of Türkiye changed from parliamentary system to presidential system via the controversial referendum in 2017, Erdoğan legally should have right to contend one more time. Some others however do not support this view and assert that Erdoğan could not become a presidential candidate normally. If we legally accept this approach, the only solution for Erdoğan to become a candidate once again is a parliamentary decision for the renewal of the elections. Article 116 of the Turkish constitution clearly states that a President who already served twice can become a presidential candidate again in case the parliament takes a decision to renew the elections. The parliament can make such a decision with the 3/5 majority. Since there are 600 seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA), Erdoğan needs 360 votes for the renewal of the elections. However, the ruling AK Parti (Justice and Development Party) has only 285 seats in the parliament. Since -ruled by Devlet Bahçeli- the Turkish nationalist MHP (Nationalist Action Party) is a member of People Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) and supports AK Parti in all issues, we can count 48 MHP deputies on the side of Erdoğan as well, which makes 333 seats in total. Thus, Erdoğan still needs the support of 27 parliamentarians within the TGNA to secure his candidacy. In that sense, having problems with the chosen candidate of the opposition bloc (Nation Alliance-Millet İttifakı) İYİ Parti (Good Party) could help Erdoğan with its 37 deputies to renew the elections.
Turkish political parties and their number of seats within the TGNA
The third important uncertainty on the other hand is about the allocation of seats for cities. Since the recent devastating earthquake killed more then 50,000 people in Türkiye and forced millions of people to migrate and settle into different cities than their original place of residence, normally there should be a considerable change in the number of seats for cities who are negatively affected from the disaster and became deserted. In that sense, Türkiye’s YSK (Supreme Election Board/Supreme Election Committee) announced the number of parliamentary seats for each city just a few days ago but did not make any changes considering the earthquake. That is why, there can be great injustice about the value of votes given by people in different cities.
Turkish cities and their number of seats in the parliament
The fourth and the last uncertainty is about the number of candidates that will be racing in the presidential election. It is now certain that both AK Parti chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and pro-secular CHP (Republican People’s Party) chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu are officially presidential candidates. However, with the recent crack in the opposition (I will elaborate it in the next section), İYİ Parti also could declare a presidential candidate for itself now, making it three. Pro-Kurdish HDP (People’s Democratic Party) will also declare its own presidential candidate soon, which makes it four. Muharrem İnce’s Homeland Party (Memleket Partisi) could also declare a presidential candidate either by themselves alone or with the support of Ümit Özdağ’s anti-immigrant Victory Party (Zafer Partisi). Far left parties such as Turkish Labour Party (TİP), Left Party (Sol Parti), and EMEP also could present a joint presidential candidate this time instead of supporting HDP or CHP. With his Patriotic Party (Vatan Partisi), veteran left-wing politician Doğu Perinçek could also become a candidate once again by collecting 100,000 signatures from citizens. Thus, we still do not know exactly the number of presidential candidates.
Crack in the Opposition: Why now?
Although the opposition bloc called Nation Alliance (Millet İttifakı) seems to have very high chance this time against President Erdoğan due to Türkiye’s decline in democracy in recent years as well as the poor economic performance of the country and the terrible crisis management of the government during the earthquake, a new and unexpected political development has changed the whole picture and caused despair for the opposition. Composed of 6 different political parties (Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP, Meral Akşener’s İYİ Parti, Ali Babacan’s DEVA Party, Ahmet Davutoğlu’s Future Party, Temel Karamollaoğlu’s Felicity Party, and Gültekin Uysal’s Democratic Party), the Nation Alliance or the so-called “sextet chair” (altılı masa) had a recent political crisis about the joint candidate. While 5 political party leaders reconciled on the choice of CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as their common presidential candidate, İYİ Parti Meral Akşener did not accept this and left the opposition bloc.
İYİ Parti is a secular right-wing political party established by people coming from Turkish nationalist MHP background, which might have directed them not to support Kılıçdaroğlu, a Zaza and Alevi politician from Tunceli (Dersim). İYİ Parti officials however do not accept this accusation and they reveal that a candidate who has higher chance to win the presidential election such as Istanbul mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu or Ankara mayor Mansur Yavaş could be chosen instead of Kılıçdaroğlu. Akşener made a very harsh statement recently, accusing Kılıçdaroğlu and other political parties of forcing İYİ Parti to bend the knee to Kılıçdaroğlu. If İYİ Parti and Akşener could not be convinced, the opposition might have serious damage just a few weeks before the elections, which might change the whole picture.
Although Akşener’s opposition to the choice of Kılıçdaroğlu has some valid points such as the results of previously made opinion polls that show Yavaş and İmamoğlu very much ahead of Kılıçdaroğlu, for me, this was not enough to destroy the sextet chair. Thus, Akşener and her party might now have another plan such as joining the People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) or playing to the next election after 5 more years of Erdoğan and AK Parti rule by not supporting CHP and Kılıçdaroğlu at this election. Their new strategy will soon be understood. However, looking at the harshness of her speech, I am now convinced that Akşener would not return to the sextet chair.
Who could win?
With Akşener and İYİ Parti gone, all calculations before the elections are changed now. In this part, I will try to present you some number by using the average of previous opinion polls. AK Parti has still around 30 to 35 % votes, but we are not sure what will be the effect of the earthquake and poor performance of the government during this disaster. MHP could still get 5 to 10 % votes in addition to Mustafa Destici and BBP’s 1 %, which makes People’s Alliance votes 36 to 46 %. Thus, it is very much likely that President Erdoğan this time could not be elected in the first round.
CHP and its bloc on the other hand also stays short of % 50+1 majority. CHP could get 25 to 30 % of the votes by itself. However, without İYİ Parti’s 12 to 18 %, the rest of the opposition bloc could make only around 4 to 7 %. That will make the vote for Kılıçdaroğlu 30 to 37 %. However, Kılıçdaroğlu still has a chance since the pro-Kurdish HDP could support him in the second round. By leaning on Kurdish identity, HDP could get 10 to 15 % and could be the decisive factor in the second round of the elections.
So, what we should expect from a potential second round between Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan? Recently made polls suggest that Kılıçdaroğlu could defeat Erdoğan with a slight difference, but it will not be an easy election. Moreover, Erdoğan might try to alienate voters from Kılıçdaroğlu by underlining his different ethnic and sectarian identity. Although this is a very inappropriate behavior, unfortunately, in some democratic countries where class-based voting is weak, such as the United States and Türkiye, this could be used by right-wing and especially far-right politicians and -the worst of all- it could work. Moreover, the opposition’s failure to present a joint candidate will be definitely used by President Erdoğan as an example of incompetence. Thus, I think, unless Akşener is convinced, now the presidential election is open to two possibilities almost equally; I would guess 60 % Erdoğan and 40 % Kılıçdaroğlu will win.
Finally, in my opinion, 2023 elections will be a very difficult challenge for Turkish democracy, but the country will soon get over it and will celebrate its 100th year anniversary with a new government and a refreshed parliament democratically elected by Turkish people.
Most recent news show that Akşener and İYİ Parti could return to the table for a joint candidate. It is written in the Turkish press that Yavaş and İmamoğlu could become Vice Presidents to strengthen Kılıçdaroğlu’s presidency. Next few days will be critical for the opposition and if Akşener stays within the bloc, the opposition could win the election in a relatively easier manner.
Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ