The mesmerizing city of Istanbul with its electric nightlife, the fantastical rock formations of Cappadocia, the time leap to ancient times via the ruins in Ephesus, and the shimmering Mediterranean and Aegean coastlines complete the biggest attractions of Turkey. The diversity of cultural heritage and culinary attractions make it an ideal destination for tourists looking to make sun-kissed memories near the beaches, loaded with remnants of a bygone, lavish empire.
Turkey, however, is waiting in anticipation with bated breath to witness a pivotal change in the history of her politics.
An eroding Erodgan era?
The 69-years old Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has mobilized many state resources to level the playing field as he prepares for the most difficult election of his career on May 14th, Sunday.
Over the past two decades, Erdogan, who has risen to become the nation’s dominant figure, has increased the minimum wage three times and accessed the Treasury for populist spending initiatives while ensuring his speeches are broadcast in their entirety. The election board in charge of this vote has recently made dubious decisions favoring the president. By putting supporters in positions of power in the judiciary and restricting free speech, Erdogan has undermined democratic institutions.
Turkey has avoided totalitarianism because Erdogan himself values electoral politics’ sacred place in the country’s identity. With no signs of foul play over the years, he and his ruling Justice and Development Party have routinely defeated their rivals at the polls, giving Erdogan a mandate.
Much of Turkish foreign policy has been personally associated with Erdogan during his presidency, as he has established himself as a crucial, if occasionally problematic and perplexing, partner of the West. While refusing to support Western sanctions against Russia, he denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, sent aid to the Ukrainian government, and grew close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In his speeches, he criticizes Washington and has fought with the US over its policy toward Syria. Despite being the leader of a NATO member, he has slowed down the alliance’s growth by delaying Finland’s admission and continuing to reject Sweden.
Given Turkey’s unique status as a predominantly Muslim society with a steadfastly secular state and a vast network of economic and diplomatic ties spanning Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, a change in Turkish leadership would have repercussions throughout the world.
The opponent bares fangs
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, the main rival of Erdogan, has vowed that if he wins, he will bring democracy back. He is the representative of a coalition of six political parties, all of which have very different ideologies, and his track record is largely opaque. He served as the head of Turkey’s social security administration before entering politics and has pledged that if elected, he will strengthen ties with the West and make Turkish foreign policy less divisive.
The political opposition claims that Erdogan’s consolidation of power has gone too far, considering more than 85% inflation in October 2022 and a sharp decline in the valuation of the Lira currency, along with equality and the ability to meet basic needs. They view Sunday’s vote as a crucial turning point for Turkish democracy that could serve as an example for other nations battling aspirational autocrats.
Is the Turkish populace in favor of change?
The working class, rural, and more religious voters—who adore Erdogan’s rhetoric about defending Turkey against a variety of domestic and foreign enemies—remain among his most ardent backers. He has resisted Turkey’s state secularism by promoting Islamic education and changing laws to permit women in public service positions to wear head scarves. Opinion polls, however, give Kilicdaroglu a slight lead.
Three months have passed since earthquakes in southeast Turkey claimed the lives of more than 50,000 people. Although there is little evidence that the issue has altered people’s voting intentions completely, many in the affected provinces have expressed anger over the initial slow government response. Some have opted to put their faith in Erodgan, while others have opted for a change in administration, fearing a looming economic crisis.
The election for a new parliament will also take place in a close contest between Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance and the People’s Alliance, which includes Erdogan’s conservative Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP), the nationalist MHP, and others.
Kurdish voters, who make up 15-20% of the electorate, will be crucial because the Nation Alliance is unlikely to win a majority in parliament on its own. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) vehemently opposes Erdogan because of a crackdown on its members in recent years. The party has declared its support for Kilicdaroglu in the presidential race.