On May 14, 2023, Turkey held its presidential and parliamentary elections, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeking re-election after being in power for 20 years. The election is being watched worldwide due to Turkey’s geopolitical importance, and Erdogan’s opponents leading in the opinion polls. The President is elected in direct voting, with the candidate who crosses the 50%-mark winning. If no candidate reaches that figure, there will be a runoff election.
The Grand National Assembly is elected through proportional representation. The Turkey election 2023 is seen as a referendum on Erdogan‘s handling of the economy, and his departure from the secular, democratic foundations of the modern Turkish state. The economy has faced inflation and a devaluing currency, while Erdogan has been accused of mismanaging earthquake relief efforts and flouting construction rules.
Erdogan has Islamicised Turkey, which was fiercely secular under the founder of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk. Erdogan’s initial years were characterized by economic growth and infrastructure building, while his later years saw economic mishandling, allegations of cronyism, and a crackdown on dissenters and minorities.
Turkey’s roughly 60 million voters cast their votes to elect both their President and members of Parliament. The President was elected in direct voting, and the candidate who crossed the 50%-mark would win. In case no candidate reached that figure, there would be a runoff election on the second Sunday after the first vote. In the runoff, only the top two candidates of the first ballot would contest, and the one with more votes would become President.
The election to the 600-member Parliament, or Grand National Assembly, was through proportional representation, where people voted for parties rather than individual candidates. The seats a party got were proportional to the votes cast in its favor. To enter Parliament, a party needed to win 7% of the vote or be a constituent of an alliance that did.
Thanks to sweeping changes introduced by Erdogan in his last term, Turkey was now a Presidential rather than Parliamentary democracy, and the post of Prime Minister had been abolished.
Economic Troubles in Turkey Election 2023
Turkey’s economy is in trouble. Inflation is around 50%, down from the high of 85% in 2022. The currency, lira, has shed 80% of its value in the past five years. The recent devastating earthquake has worsened matters. Erdogan’s refusal to raise interest rates on loans and the central bank’s failure to stand up to him have contributed to the inflation troubles. Erdogan’s image as a strong leader in full control has helped him in the past, but it now concentrates responsibility on him for his government’s perceived delay in earthquake relief and for the flouting of construction rules that exacerbated the earthquake damage.
Secular, Democratic Foundations in Turkey Election 2023
The Turkey election 2023 was also a referendum on Erdogan’s steering away from the modern Turkish state’s secular, democratic foundations. Ataturk, a celebrated military commander and statesman, had shaped modern Turkey majorly through the force of his own personality and popularity, forbidding overt display of religion, giving women equal civil and political rights, and turning the Ottoman Sultanate into a democracy. Though he died in 1938, Ataturk remains the tallest leader Turkey has ever produced. Many believe Erdogan, charismatic and popular, seeks to supplant him.
Islamisation of the State
In his 20-year rule, Erdogan has Islamicised the fiercely secular republic founded by Kemal Ataturk. Ataturk, a celebrated military commander and statesman, had shaped modern Turkey majorly through the force of his own personality and popularity, forbidding overt display of religion, giving women equal civil and political rights, and turning the Ottoman Sultanate into a democracy.
Though he died in 1938, Ataturk remains the tallest leader Turkey has ever produced, and many believe Erdogan seeks to supplant him. Erdogan won popularity in rural, Anatolian Turkey, which had long felt it had nothing in common with the urban elite, and wanted the right to practise its religion more publicly.
Erdogan overturned the ban on wearing the hijab in public institutions in Turkey, something that had been enforced by the Kemalist regime. In his initial years, he even courted the Kurdish minority, promising them greater freedom of cultural and identity expression. But along with stoking identity sentiments, Erdogan also brought economic well-being through welfare schemes and massive infrastructure building, improving the lives of the poor and the middle classes.
Allegations of Cronyism and a Crackdown on Dissenters
However, Erdogan’s later years have been characterized by economic mishandling and allegations of cronyism on one hand, and a brutal crackdown on dissenters, including journalists, academics, and opposition politicians on the other. The government has shut down media outlets, blocked social media platforms, and imprisoned journalists on charges of terrorism and insulting the state. The opposition says that Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian, and Turkey’s slide towards authoritarianism has alarmed many of its Western allies.
Opposition and their Challenges in Turkey Election 2023
The opposition in Turkey has a diverse set of parties and candidates, but the most prominent of them is the Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The CHP is the oldest party in Turkey and was founded by Ataturk. It has been in opposition for most of Erdogan’s two decades in power and is now positioning itself as a centrist, secular alternative to Erdogan’s brand of politics. The CHP is also part of a broader opposition alliance, which includes the nationalist Good Party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the Islamist Felicity Party.
However, the opposition faces many challenges, including the uneven playing field. Erdogan has stacked the deck in his favor, using state resources and the media to promote his candidacy and restrict opposition activities. The government has also arrested or intimidated opposition candidates and their supporters. The opposition also lacks unity and a coherent message, and some of the opposition parties have histories of infighting and ideological divisions.
Implications of the Results in Turkey Election 2023
The Turkey election 2023 results were eagerly awaited, with the opposition hoping to end Erdogan’s two-decade rule and the President aiming to secure a win to cement his power further. The Turkey election 2023 was not without controversy, with allegations of vote-rigging and suppression of opposition voices.
The final results showed that Erdogan had lost the Presidential race to the opposition candidate, who had won by a narrow margin in the second round. However, Erdogan’s party had retained a slim majority in Parliament, giving him some room to maneuver.
The implications of the results were far-reaching. For the first time in twenty years, Turkey would have a new President, bringing in a new set of policies and priorities. The opposition victory could herald a return to Turkey’s secular, democratic traditions, which had been under threat under Erdogan’s rule. It could also lead to better relations with Turkey’s Western allies, who had grown increasingly concerned with Erdogan’s authoritarianism and his pivot towards Russia and China.
However, Erdogan’s retention of power in Parliament means that he would continue to wield significant influence over Turkish politics. He could still pursue his agenda of Islamization and continue to curtail civil liberties and suppress opposition voices. Moreover, Erdogan’s loss in the Presidential race could lead to political instability, with his loyalists and supporters feeling disenfranchised and emboldened to resist the new President’s policies.
In conclusion, the Turkey Election 2023 is a crucial moment in the country’s history, with the outcome having significant implications for Turkey and the wider world. The election showed that Erdogan’s grip on power was slipping, but it also highlighted the deep divisions and polarizations in Turkish society. The challenge for Turkey’s new leaders would be to heal these divisions and chart a new path forward for the country.
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