Editor’s Note: 2023, “Century of Turkiye” Marred by the Turmoil of the Upcoming Presidential Election
By N.Selin ŞENOCAK
There are some dates that turn into great memories as they pass by, but others can be marked as turning points in history. 2023 is one of those turning points, for both Turkiye which is celebrating its 100th anniversary of the formation of the Turkish Republic in the midst of the upcoming presidential election and the rest of the world which shall be shaped in accordance. Some international experts designate it, as the world’s most important election in 2023.
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan signaled that Turkiye may hold its critical presidential and general elections on May 14, fueling further the debate on bringing the election earlier than its scheduled date on June 18.
“Late Menderes (Adnan, former Prime Minister) came out of the ballot box with an overwhelming victory on May 14, 1950, by saying, “Enough, the word is of the nation.” “On the same day, our nation will say ‘enough’ to these coup marshals,” Erdoğan said at a parliamentary group meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AKP).
This statement by President Erdoğan on the historical facts and the choice of the date for the presidential election is not insignificant. Indeed, on 14 May 1950, Turkiye held its first democratic elections resulting in the Democrat Party (DP) winning a landslide victory over the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The victory of the DP marked the end of the single-party rule that had dominated the country since its founding in 1923 when Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded it. The AK Party has its roots loosely in the DP, and Erdoğan is looking to pitch the historic defeat of the CHP party in 1950 as one that his party looks set to repeat.
The 68-year-old leader has been in power for 20 years and faces his toughest electoral test in years amid record inflation.
With the upcoming early presidential elections, several questions are now being asked. Will President Erdoğan be re-elected? Will there be a paradigm shift? Who will be the opposition candidate? But more importantly, does the opposition desire to come to power? If Erdoğan has governed Turkiye for the past 20 years, it is not only due to Erdoğan personal successes, but also paradoxically due to the opposition itself.
The latest polls currently show that the AKP is in free fall regarding the public opinion due to factors such as the economic crisis, the high unemployment rate, the devaluation of the Turkish lira (with inflation having reached 85%) and recent political scandals. The nepotism and the authoritarianism present within the government are the consequences of this dissolution.
For the first time in its history, the AKP is at the bottom of the polls.
Turkiye is an unpredictable country where anything can happen at any time, the Turkish people have gained immunity from the unpredictable.
It is difficult to categorize Turkiye under a specific culture or geography. Turkiye brings together more than thirty culturally and traditionally different ethnic groups under its flag. It is its heritage as the crossroads of civilisations that gives it all its charm and mystery. Another important characteristic of the Turkish population, pertaining to the difficulty of analysts to make relevant analyses regarding voting tendencies, is that contrary to the European norm, there is no major ideological distinction between left-wing and right-wing parties (with the exception of parties possessing an ethnic claim).
Erdoğan’s success is in itself a subject for a doctoral thesis. To understand the reason behind it, it is necessary to analyze its assets, the context of internal and especially international politics without forgetting the use of a well-calculated political strategy accompanied by actions with the intent to manipulate the public opinion.
Whether we like it or not, Erdoğan triumph is obvious, being revered not only in Turkiye by a certain part of the population, especially in the rural and conservative milieu, but also in other Muslim countries. His profile as a dynamic and charismatic man from the Black Sea region with a modest background, Istanbulite, conservative Muslim, pro-capitalist, possessing an excellent populist rhetoric and most importantly proclaiming to be an apparent victim of the Turkish secular system has made him an extremely popular figure in Turkish politics. Faced with an elitist opposition, cut off from the Anatolian reality, without a guiding vision and accompanying projects, presenting unknown candidates such as “Ekmelettin Ihsanoğlu”, there is little doubt as to the reasons behind Erdoğan’s popularity and longevity.
Turkiye is going through a deep economic and social crisis, with inflation having reached 85%, the devaluation of the Turkish lira, 460 billion dollars of external debt and not to mention the extremely serious political scandal pertaining to the revelations of Mafia leader Sedat Peker, accusing the current government of having perpetrated organized crime during its Erdoğan’s tenure. Such events in other countries would have surely led to the resignation or collapse of its government but due to laxity and weakness of the opposition in Turkiye, the government is able to cling on to its power while simultaneously disregarding the reaction of its population.
We must not forget that Erdoğan has amplified his notoriety thanks also to the policy of propagation of political Islam. His alliance with the radical islamist terrorist organisation of Fethullah Gulen which created a parallel state within the Turkish State and dismantled all state institutions by fraudulently placing his men and imprisoning patriotic Turkish intellectuals, bureaucrats, diplomats, military and Kemalists under pretext for coups with Operation Ergenekon, which will forever remain a black page in the history of the Turkish Republic.
On the opposition side, a consensus is not clearly defined as to who shall take the mantle, with the polls currently favouring the two mayors of Turkiye’s major cities: Ankara and Istanbul. Mansur Yavas is currently ahead of all his competitors in all of the polls while remaining in the side-line as to not get into any controversy and continue his successful tenure as mayor of Ankara. This is less the case for his colleague in Istanbul, who was taken a much more prominent and politicized role on the front stage of Turkish politics, having also created his election campaign team. Let us not forget the two leaders of the opposition Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican Party, who has already nominated himself as the candidate for the presidential election when the leader of Iyi Party launched a new controversy by designating herself as the candidate for the post of Prime Minister. This is a nod to the opposition’s desire to change the constitution in order to return to the previous system of governance.
It is important to note that, the economy remained the most important issue on Turkiye’s agenda in 2022. Shrinkflation, the debt spiral, difficulties in making the ends meet are issues that majority of the public constantly complain about. In this economic climate, according to the Turkiye Raporu Poll which political will be the best to tackle Turkiye’s economic problems the result is quite confusing. 28% of respondents chose Erdoğan. Yet a significant portion of respondents believe that no leader can overcome economic problems.
Nevertheless, President Erdoğan remains the most popular political leader in many recent election polls. His popularity increases thanks to his diplomatic success on international conflicts and recent economic actions such as early retirement (EYT) and the housing investment opportunities for low-income citizens. He remains also paradoxically the leader who can solve Turkiye’s economic problems in the public opinion. His re-election for the Presidential elections for 2023 will not be a surprise but the decline of AKP is inevitable with a strong opposition at the Turkish Parliament.
Politics is full of surprises, everything can change and when it comes to Turkiye, the unpredictable keeps its mystery until the last minute. Will Erdogan let go of his chair? Surely not, all means are at his disposal.