Turkish election: Kilicdaroglu or Erdogan?

A hundred years ago, the Republic of Türkiye was born from the ashes of the decaying old empire known as the Ottoman Empire. The new republic, on the principles laid down by its visionary leader Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, embarked on its rocky journey as a new nation-state in 1923. Since the foundation of the Republic, the nation itself witnessed 20 general elections, three presidential elections, and seven military coups for over a century. Nowadays, Türkiye is at the crossroads of choosing her future in the era of uncertainty (Ukrainian military conflict, rapid inflation, economic crisis, corruption, global warming, environmental pollution, water shortage.) that clouds the proud nation. In the last weeks, pictures of presidential candidates were hung upon every corner of the streets from the dazzling and bustling metropolises such as Istanbul, Izmir, and Antalya. Flyers of the political parties were being dispersed among the street pedestrians. The flag of Eclipse and Star along with the banners of their supporting parties were enthusiastically and proudly waved by supporters of various parties. This Sunday, 14th May, the future of Türkiye will be unveiled.

Background before the election

In 2017, a controversial referendum was carried out by the Government of Türkiye. The theme of the referendum was whether it is fitting for metamorphosing from a parliamentary republic to a presidential republic. The result of the referendum was shocking as 51% of the participants voted in favor of altering the parliamentary system. What motivated to modify the political system was the coup d’etat attempt on 15th July. The group-so called “Peace at Home” council stormed into key places such as television stations, governmental buildings, and police stations. However, the latest coup attempt of 2016 was a failure. There are several factors that the coup d’état failed: social media, military division, and lack of public support and politicians. During the coup d’état, hundreds of civilians lost their lives in the process of coup d’état. Thousands of people including higher ranking officials were fired from their jobs, ousted from their positions, and imprisoned on the accusations of collaborating against the state and undermining the state authority via a coup and affiliated with the so-called FETO (Fetullah Gulen Terrorist Organization). On the other hand, the coup presented an opportunity to President Erdogan. During the coup, President Erdogan rallied the people via the Whatscall app against the coup plotters. Attacks against him and his rally of the people portrayed him as a “defender of democracy”. As a consequence, the popularity of his image soared and his legitimacy over political power was strengthened. The event enabled President Erdogan to crush down his political enemies. In 2019, President Erdogan solidified his power through snap elections. Thus, President Erdogan managed to push for a presidential republic and the executive power fell into his hand. During his term as president, Türkiye faced severe issues. On the south side, Türkiye had to interfere Syrian conflict militarily based on the fear that the PKK could disrupt the country’s territorial integrity since 2016. As for the west side, Türkiye’s relations with Greece were worsened due to the sea-water territorial issue and natural gas sites discovered in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Meanwhile, the armed conflict in Ukraine is forcing Türkiye to take actions ranging from sending military aid to mediating between belligerents. Therefore, Türkiye is in a difficult position in international relations as instability surrounds the nation. Internally speaking, Türkiye is experiencing slow economic growth, refugee issues, and a brain drain. Foreign exchange is tabbing against Türkiye’s favor. In 2019, the exchange rate of the lira to the dollar was robustly strong with a rate of 6, and nowadays, the amount of lira against the dollar is astonishingly weak with a rate of 19 to 1. Based on the exchange rate, it can be easily said that the purchasing power is weakened in Türkiye. The higher inflation rate (PPI increased from 30% to peaking around 140% within the last three years) of 43.7% and a weakening currency are consequences of the interference (President Erdogan dismissed three central bank governors in 2018 due to the clashes about keeping the interest rate low) initiated by President Erdogan and external influence from the global economy.

An Earthquake that could shake the Turkish Politics

In 1999, an earthquake with a 7.8 magnitude erupted in the Marmara region (Provinces surrounding the Sea of Marmara) of Türkiye. The consequence of the earthquake was devasting as thousands of people lost their lives, hundreds of buildings were destroyed, and many people were displaced. At that time, the seats of the National Assembly were predominantly dominated by Republican People’s Party. The government’s response to the disaster was inadequate and slow. The corruption was widespread. To quote Stephan Kinzer: “Its government had no plan for dealing with them, no disaster-relief agency, no civil-defense network, not even an official designated to take charge at such moments. In what seemed like a very cruel joke, the government’s earthquake-relief fund was found to contain the equivalent of just four dollars and forty-five cents.” As a result, trust in the government plummeted. Consequently, AKP (Justice and Development Party) opportunistically won the 2002 general election and maintained its position for almost two decades. Ironically, on 6th February 2023, an earthquake with a similar magnitude to that of 1999 with a follow-up of 7.5 magnitudes occurred in the Hatay region. The Government’s response to the Hatay earthquake somehow evoked a similar image from the 1999 earthquake. However, the earthquake was deadlier, and more impactful than other earthquakes. According to the World Bank, the number of losses was around 34.2 billion dollars and the costs of the reconstruction could be two times higher than losses.  50 thousand people lost their lives and 1.9 million people have been displaced and are living in temporary accommodations and 2.5 million children require humanitarian assistance according to the UN. A prominent journalist named Fatih Altiyali said in a documentary “Türkiye was meant to be prepared just as Japan but on the paper. Our regulations, our doings, the laws that our lawyers passed, and the guides addressing the earthquake echoed an impression that Türkiye was ready. Look at AFAD (Turkish Disaster Relief and Emergency Agency) now. With 7500 personnel and a budget of 2.5 billion. What for? How many members did it disperse? 24 thousand ordinary people worked as volunteers. There was no AFAD. There was no military. Hospitals were full. No responsibility”. The 1999 earthquake blessed an opportunity for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Yet, President Erdogan did not take into previous predecessor’s mistake of not tackling the corruption and mismanagement of preventing natural disasters. Two decades later, the 2023 earthquake could ironically oust him from his presidential office and AKP from the National Assembly.

The Table of Six against President Erdogan

The Table of Six (Altili Masa), composed of CHP, IYI, DP, DEVA, and GP, is challenging the status quo of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The main goal of the Table is to restore the parliamentary system that the country previously had. With the intense discussion last March and off-n-on from the IYI party, the main presidential candidate was named the leader of the Republican People’s Party, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and Ekrem Imamoglu as vice-president. With the slogan of “Hadyi Türkiye! (Hurry Türkiye)!”, Candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu is hurriedly and effectively challenging President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. According to Euronews, a majority of the polls illustrates that Kilacdagoglu’s support is higher than President Erdogan with a percentage of 48.9%. Kilicdaroglu promised that he would restore democracy & freedom in Türkiye and push for membership in the EU. On the other hand, President Erdogan with the slogan of “100 yil icin doğru zaman, doğru adam” (For 100 years, right time right man) promises to curb inflation, fight FETO and PKK and build half a million houses for survivors from the earthquake. In his campaign videos, President Erdogan shows the happy Turkish family, technological upheavals such as the drone-aircraft carrier, and prosperity. When the 100th anniversary of the Republic draws in, President Erdogan is attempting to showcase as a capable leader of the nation. However, his video contradicts the reality in Türkiye as people are struggling to afford basic needs. Fancy technology could not fill empty stomachs. The refugee issue is a sensitive yet heated topic among the politicians in Türkiye. When it comes to the refugee issue, both candidates expressed their desire to return Syrian back to their homes with the accords of the coordination from the Government of Syria. Türkiye hosts around three million Syrian refugees. Candidate Kilicdaroglu stated that he would send back Syrians to their homeland within two years.  President Erdogan would work on the refugees to let them return voluntarily.

Election outlooks

As Muharrem Ince pulls out from the candidacy, the chance of winning for Kilicdaroglu could increase. If candidate Kilicdaroglu wins the two-round election, Türkiye would return to its previous state of the Republic before the 2017 referendum and rebalance the power between the three branches.  President Erdogan might push for another run under the auspices of doubting political legitimacy just as he previously did in the 2020 Istanbul municipal elections while he is in power. Another scenario might be the military. However, it is quite unlikely to utilize the military as the reputation of the military seems damaged due to the handling of the 2023 earthquake (keep it in mind that the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Therefore, President Erdogan could face harsh criticisms). If they attempt to stage a coup, it will make its reputation even worse. Plus, President Erdogan promised that he would accept the result of the election and transfer the power this Friday. If President Erdogan wins the election, He will maintain his power and influence over the institutions. Thus, Türkiye will still be suffering the consequence of his decisions. Nevertheless, uncertainty still surrounds the election.

Concluding thoughts

The anniversary of the 100th year of the Republic is coming closer. The Republic of Türkiye will decide its future tomorrow.  As the election comes closer, the fate of the nation draws near.

Voters, in hopes of better lives, will respectfully circle their supporting candidates. Economic crisis coupled with external issues such as the Armed conflict in Ukraine challenges the legacy of Ataturk: a modern and secular-democratic Turkish Republic. The winner of the election holds the key to the next path of another century.