Turkish people decided on the future of their country by overwhelmingly choosing right-wing conservative/Islamist AK Parti’s chair Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on May 28, 2023, in the second round of the presidential election with 52 % of the votes. Thus, despite of huge economic problems and Türkiye’s authoritarian transformation in recent years, “election winning machine” Mr. Erdoğan once again proved his success and legitimacy in the eyes of Turkish people and earned 5 more years in the office. However, Erdoğan’s unconventional tactics during the electoral campaign including spreading false videos about the opposition’s presidential candidate and CHP chair Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu created some reactions as well. On the night of his electoral victory, Erdoğan set his next target: to win the municipalities of big cities (İstanbul and Ankara primarily) in the local elections that will take place on March 2024. Erdoğan keeps his party’s electoral coalition called People’s Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) with other right-wing/far right parties and seems to have high chance to be successful in local elections if he could fix the economy. In this piece, I am going to summarize most important political developments in Türkiye in the post-election process.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş resigned from politics
One of the most important political development taking place in Türkiye following the election was the resignation of pro-Kurdish HDP’s jailed chair Selahattin Demirtaş from active politics. In an interview made from prison, Demirtaş announced his decision by stating the reason as “not being able to put forth politics that are deserving of our people“. A source close to Demirtaş on the other hand claimed that the politician’s decision was affected by the HDP’s ignorance of his suggestions. It must not be forgotten that, during the night of the second round, after Erdoğan’s victory was declared, Erdoğan’s supporters yelled out for the execution of Demirtaş. This might be another reason for Demirtaş’s surprising resignation.
Socialist journalist Merdan Yanardağ is imprisoned
More recently, the founder of Erdoğan opponent Tele 1 tv channel, veteran socialist journalist Merdan Yanardağ was arrested due to his remarks related to the imprisoned PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan. Yanardağ was accused of “praising the crime and the criminal” as well as “making propaganda for a terrorist organization” due to his statements about Öcalan during a broadcast on the Tele 1 channel on June 25. Yanardağ’s statements could be criticized and refuted, but it is hard to believe that there was a real encouragement for violence. In fact, he only mentioned Öcalan’s intelligence and intellectual capacity, which are unusual statements to be used for a terrorist leader from my perspective as well, but might not constitute a real reason for conviction. Yanardağ decision shows that the dose of nationalism will increase in Türkiye unless a new peace process is not implemented. Moreover, the decision destroyed the earlier hopes that Erdoğan could soften the regime following his decisive victory in the elections.
CHP in leadership race
Erdoğan’s biggest rival pro-secular CHP on the other hand has having hard times since the election night. Awaiting a victory from the presidential election on the basis of public opinion polls, CHP cadres and supporters are extremely disappointed and unhappy after the results. Voices criticizing the party’s current chair and presidential nominee Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu are increasing day by day, but Kılıçdaroğlu does not seem willingly to resign. Kılıçdaroğlu’s biggest contender is Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu, a rising star of the party, who had defeated Erdoğan twice in 2019 in the Istanbul local elections (the election was renewed due to AK Parti’s pressure). İmamoğlu’s popularity is still very high, but the current legal system of Türkiye has been harassing and trying to ban him from active politics. Appeal decision is not yet announced, but it is still possible that İmamoğlu might soon be temporarily banned from politics for saying “idiot” (ahmak) to the people who decided to renew Istanbul local elections in 2019. This seems again a very harsh punishment considering the fact that Turkish people including politicians and statesmen use slang words very often. Without a leadership change, it might be very hard for CHP administration to motivate voters to go to ballots once again in March 2024 after such a huge disappointment. However, İmamoğlu becoming CHP’s new chair might mean an easy victory for AK Parti in İstanbul since the party does not have an equally strong and popular candidate. İmamoğlu’s possible ban from active politics on the other hand might leave CHP very weak. That is why; CHP’s situation is very ambiguous for the moment.
İmamoğlu and Kılıçdaroğlu
Akşener and İYİ Parti distancing themselves from CHP
Another crucial development was pro-secular right-wing İYİ Parti’s recent congress. During the congress, the party’s leader Meral Akşener criticized her party and showed signals of leaving CHP-led Nation Alliance (Millet İttifakı). In fact, Akşener opposed to Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy in March 2023 and openly supported the candidacy of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu or Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş, but had to withdraw from her position upon social pressures coming from pro-secular masses. However, after the loss of the presidential election, Akşener now seems very angry towards CHP and Kılıçdaroğlu. In that sense, without a leadership change in CHP, it might be very difficult for CHP to convince Akşener and her party to join the Nation Alliance in March 2024 in the local elections. Of course, without İYİ Parti’s support, the opposition might not win many municipalities including İstanbul and Ankara as well.
New stars in the new cabinet
Erdoğan’s new cabinet includes some names that drew too much attention from the international public. The new Foreign Minister of Türkiye Mr. Hakan Fidan for instance, was praised for his intellectual capacity and competence. Fidan was the head of Türkiye’s top intelligence agency, the MİT (Milli İstihbarat Teşkilatı) for long years and is known as a serious statesman. Fidan is not an classical or ordinary right-wing figure and he was the one who started peace talks with the PKK several years ago in order to end four decades-old violence and terrorism in Türkiye. In this sense, Fidan could be the one who could come up with a solution to Türkiye’s PKK problem and could take Washington’s full support as well in doing this. However, the first thing to be solved on the table of diplomacy is of course the Swedish accession to NATO, on which Ankara continues to act as a barrier. It seems like Türkiye follows a “transactionalist” approach and expects some favors in return from Washington. Some sources state that this might be related to the sale of F-16 jets to Ankara and Erdoğan’s reception in the White House by the United States (U.S.) President Joe Biden.
The new Treasury and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek was also praised with his foreign experience and skills. However, in a country having serious structural problems related to democracy, rule of law, and free-market economy, it is still unknown whether Şimşek could create a difference or not. Another important fresh name is the new head of MİT, İbrahim Kalın, who could be pointed out as the first Islamist President of Türkiye’s top intelligence agency. However, with his foreign experience, intellectual capacity, and good education including his PhD at the George Washington University, Kalın could create a difference and establish new ties with the United States as well as the Islamic world.
Economy giving bad signals
Although the new Minister of Treasury and Finance was largely praised by the press, in fact Turkish lira’s free fall continues following the election. American Dollar now worth more than 26 Turkish Lira (TL) and Euro is equal to approximately 28.5 TL. The inflation in the country is still very high and although the state and private firms recently increased the wages of working people, people’s purchasing power continue to diminish. Recently, Türkiye decided to hike interest rates to 15 % from 8 %, which could be considered as a U-turn. The decision was taken by the recently appointed new Turkish Central Bank chief Hafize Gaye Erkan. The optimistic view suggests that the interest rates will be augmented even further in the near future and this will stabilize the rapid rise of the value of foreign currencies. The nightmare scenario on the other hand is based on the uncontrolled rise of foreign currencies and the rapid devaluation of Turkish Lira. This might put Erdoğan in a difficult position once again in the 2024 local elections.
In conclusion, as expected, Türkiye’s problems continue following the election and there is no sign of relief. However, the inclusion of some new competent names into the cabinet is a promising development. On the other hand, the jailing of opposition figures (Merdan Yanardağ) rings the alarm bells for Turkish democracy. Let us hope that President Erdoğan will try to expand freedoms in Türkiye and will be successful in doing this.
Assoc. Prof. Ozan ÖRMECİ