On May 15, the citizens of Turkey went to the polls to elect a president. However, neither of the leading candidates – current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – achieved a 50% majority of the votes needed to win the election.
When the votes from the first presidential election were counted, Erdoğan was in the lead by a margin of 5%, higher than most people expected. According to CBS News, “Preliminary results gave Erdogan 49.51% of the ballots, while Kilicdaroglu had won 44.88%.”
As a result, there will be a second presidential election on May 28. The winner of that election will be declared the president of Turkey.
Related link: Turkey, Earthquakes and the Geopolitics of Natural Disasters
The Second Presidential Election Could Change the Future Path of Turkey
As I mentioned in a previous article, this election is different. The issue here is the legacy of Erdoğan and his vision of Neo-Ottomanism, Pan-Turkism and Pan-Islamism.
Erdoğan and his rival Kılıçdaroğlu have made it clear that voters will have to choose between two future models for Turkey. Erdoğan is a conservative who believes in a strong Islamic identity and has the desire to reinstall Turkey as a regional and global power. Kılıçdaroğlu, however, believes in a secular Turkey that is happy with its role in Europe and modernity.
But what about the voters? Steven Cook from the Council of Foreign Relations explained that it all comes down to one thing: the economy.
According to Cook, “Turkey has been experiencing a currency crisis for about four years. Between 2018 and 2021, the lira lost about 50 percent of its value, and in the twelve months between January 2021 and January 2022, it lost 83 percent of its value.
“The way to reverse the currency’s slide and arrest the resulting inflation is for Turkey’s central bank to raise interest rates. Although the bank is supposed to be independent, Erdoğan is firmly opposed to raising interest rates and has interceded to stop the bank from raising them, preferring an unorthodox strategy that he believes will spur export-led growth.
“He is concerned that higher interest rates will hurt his core constituency of middle-class Turks, though they are experiencing significant economic strain with inflation, which has soared as high as 88.5 percent according to official sources.”
Earlier this year, Turkey and Syria suffered earthquakes. Many buildings collapsed and Erdogan’s government was blamed for its failure enforce building regulations, which contributed to the many deaths that occurred.
Coupled with Turkey’s ongoing economic crisis, it seems that this election might be the point of no return for Erdoğan’s government. But according to Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay of Reuters, people in the areas that were hit by the earthquake show the strongest support for Erdogan’s government.
Kucukgocmen and Toksabay note, “Despite the huge toll of deaths and injuries and mass migration afterwards, voter turnout was still very high in the region, at between 85-89% in most of the 11 provinces and above 80% in the others. The nationwide average was 88.9%.
“Kurdish voters in the region came out strongly in support of Erdogan’s main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in the presidential race, but the president was still ahead in voting in eight of the affected provinces. Kilicdaroglu, 74, was clearly ahead in two provinces and in the worst-hit province of Hatay, they each got 48% support, with the opposition leader marginally ahead.”
On May 22, Erdoğan received an endorsement from another presidential candidate, Sinan Ogan, who has withdrawn from the race. With Ogan’s endorsement, Erdogan may have enough votes for a clear majority in this election.
How the Turkish Presidential Election Will Affect US Relations
Erdoğan has stated that this election has garnered foreign intervention and has also accused the Biden administration of supporting his opponent. According to Nordic Monitor, Erdoğan criticized President Biden, saying, “We need to teach America a lesson in these elections. Joe Biden is speaking over there, but look what his ambassador is doing here. He goes and visits Kılıçdaroğlu. It’s shameful.”
As I observed in a previous article, U.S.-Turkey relations have been strained for a while. There has also been some talk of imposing sanctions after Turkey, a NATO member, decided to buy Russian air defense systems, a move that could put NATO jets in jeopardy.
While the government’s rhetoric in Turkey has become less vitriolic, the past 20 years of Erdoğan’s regime created a long-lasting impression in U.S.-Turkey relations. Now, there is also Russia’s actions to consider.
The Relationship Between Turkey and Russia
The Russians have a complex relationship with Erdoğan. According to the BBC, the Turkish air force shot down a Russian jet in 2015 for entering Turkish air space.
But since then, Moscow has improved its relations with Ankara. That change occurred mainly after the war with Ukraine. Turkey became an important venue for Russian tourists to visit and contribute to the Turkish economy, as well as a useful trade partner.
According to the Turkish Foreign Ministry, “Russia, has been one of the most important trade partners of Türkiye. Trade volume between [the] two states has reached 26,309 billion USD in 2019, with Türkiye’s 3,854 billion USD worth of exports and 22,454 billion USD imports.”
Russia Has Been Accused of Interfering in Turkey’s Election
Kılıçdaroğlu and the other members of his party have accused Russia of intervening in the election in Erdoğan’s favor. According to The Guardian, Kılıçdaroğlu accused Russia of concocting deepfake videos such as an allegedly fake sex tape of presidential candidate Muharrem İnce, who dropped out of the race.
The second election near the end of this month promises to be exciting and crucial for the future of Turkey and the Middle East. What is at stake is the political trajectory of a country that serves as a regional force, influencing policy at the European, Middle Eastern and global levels.
Political pundits are also thinking about what a loss for Erdoğan would mean for Europe. If Erdogan – the authoritarian leader who has controlled Turkey for two decades – concedes losing the election, then it indicates that the democratic culture in Turkey is strong enough to endure a different type of leader. This lesson is important for other countries with strong political leaders such as Hungary and Poland.
Comments are closed.