The June 24th elections in Turkey are different than ever before. This election will be the first time voters choose their parliament and president at the same time. It will also determine whether incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan will step into greater powers as president or be replaced. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) currently holds a majority in Parliament, but may lose the upper hand after the Turkey elections. With so many changes happening whether Turkey sees Erdogan win or lose could have huge impacts on the future of Turkish democracy.
Turkey Elections: What You Need to Know
Last April, President Erdogan, barely won a referendum which granted sweeping new powers to the president, while eliminating the position of prime minister. Under the new system, the president will have the power to declare a state of emergency, dissolve parliament, and make high level appointments, essentially eliminating the system of checks and balances the hindered the powers of the president. The referendum narrowly passed with the help of Erdogan’s allies in parliament. Some critics also alleged that the campaign was riddled with election fraud.
The augmentation to the powers of the president came after a failed coup attempt which nearly unseated Erdogan from power. However, the new provisions do not go into effect until the next duly elected president takes power after Turkey elections. The next election for the office president was scheduled to take place in November 2019. In April, Erdogan announced snap elections moving forward the election to June 2018, 19 months early. The move was widely suspected to help Erdogan step into new presidential powers more quickly. Many believed it was also meant to hinder opposition from being able to properly organize ahead of the election.
Turkey Elections: Fraud?
Although the Turkish election will be supervised by eight international organizations, there have been plenty of concerns over election fraud. Conversely, some analysts argue that election fraud has historically been minimal in Turkish elections. Turkish analyst Asli Aydintasbas recently rebuffed concerns over election fraud, writing, “Turkey is not Russia.”
That is exactly what many Turkish voters and foreign analysts are concerned about, the growing similarity and friendship between President Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin. When Erdogan announced snap elections, many instantly compared his tactics to those of Putin, who has been notorious for maintaining a firm grip on power thanks to ballot stuffing and the silencing of opposition figures. With grand new presidential powers on the table, many have wondered whether Erdogan aims to become a Putinesque strongman.
Like Putin, Erdogan has sought to gain the upperhand through less than ethical means. After the 2016 coup attempt, Erdogan launched greater government censorship of the media. This has helped him ensure that AKP gets the most airtime ahead of the elections. After the coup, hundreds of Turkish intellectuals, political figures, and journalists were arrested, granting Erdogan the excuse to lock up many of his opponents. Recently, a video leaked on social media that seemed to show Erdogan encouraging AKP party leaders to utilize voter registries to prevent Kurdish voters from casting their ballots.
Turkey Elections: Main Players
Erdogan’s main competition is center-left Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Described as “fiery” and “charismatic,” Ince has held colorful rallies in which he calls for greater personal freedom and derides Erdogan’s excessive public spending. Ince, however, is a left-wing candidate facing a largely conservative populous.
Meral Aksener, the “she-wolf,” leads the center-right Good Party (İyi Parti), which she founded. Aksener presents an alternative for conservative voters who reject Erdogan. Aksener has called for EU membership and a return to secularist values. She has taken a firm stance against Erdogan, accusing him of mismanaging the economy. As a center-right nationalist, she may be able to steal votes from Erdogan’s base, forcing him into a runoff election. Aksener would be Turkey’s first female president, a fact she has capitalized on while campaigning, telling supporters it is time for a female president.
Selahattin Demirtas leads the left-wing, pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP). Demirtas has been imprisoned since November 2016 for alleged links to the terrorist PKK. The pro-Kurdish leader is heading his campaign from prison. If the HDP is able garner at least 10% of the votes, they will have crossed the threshold for parliamentary representation and force the AKP out of their majority regardless of whether Turkey sees Erdogan win or lose.
Will Erdogan Win or Lose?
Although Erdogan seems to have made moves to minimize the strength of the opposition, including imprisoning Kurdish leader Demirtas, Erdogan’s path to victory is not without some hindrances. While Erdogan is clearly leading in the polls, it seems that there may be a runoff election. If Erdogan is unable to cinch 50% of the vote in the first round of voting, the election will move onto a second round.
Some opposition leaders have suggested if a second round occurs, they will pool their support around the opposing candidate. Sezai Temelli, co-leader of the HDP said last week, “It’s either Erdogan or democracy.”
Nationalist leaning Erdogan has relied on strong economic performance under his administration as a key campaign platform. This year, however, economic growth has been slowing down, while the Turkish lira has plummeted in value and inflation is rapidly rising. Some suspected the snap elections may have been called so the elections happen before further economic problems develop.
Although Erdogan has tightened his control over the media, the opposition has capitalized on the power of social media to spread their message. Graffiti has also become a means for spreading opposition messages. A tea kettle has become an emblem for the imprisoned Demirtas and HDP, as well as anti-Erdogan opposition in general, even leading to some arrests.
While the opposition hasn’t given up hope, despite the polling, Erdogan’s AKP has dominated elections since 2002. As the polls indicate, nationalist Erdogan remains Turkey’s most popular political figure. With greater presidential powers and an AKP majority in parliament on the line, whether the country see Erdogan win or lose could have enormous ramifications for Turkey’s future.