The weakness exhibited by the opposition in Turkey’s elections on Sunday highlights the firm grip of the Erdoğan regime in a country that is progressively distancing itself from its European aspirations.
Presently, the prevailing scenario validates a nationalist and theocratic perspective, disregarding the economic downturn, the catastrophic earthquakes, and Turkey’s international isolation.
What does the first-round results tell us about where Turkey is going? What are the key takeaways? Has Erdoğan secured a victory already?
These are the key findings drawn by five analysts who provided their assessment of the election results to daily Kathimerini.
Yavuz Baydar – Editor-in-Chief, Free Turkish Press (FTP)
The elections on May 14 reaffirmed the strength of Erdoğan’s power grab more than any others previously. While it may leave a lot of doubt on data manipulation to be vetted, the nature of Erdogan’s control over the state apparatus and his command over the alliance he leads leave little room for maneuver for the opposition, which is doomed to crack as it paces toward the second round.
With Erdogan consolidating his base in Parliament, all odds seem for him to win even by a wider margin against Kilicdaroglu, who even in the first round seems not to have appealed to the disgruntled, pious Sunni voters.
But, overall, the choice emerging in these elections will go down in history, as the citizenry endorses a majoritarian rule, a particular blend of Islamists, militarists and increasing dosage of hard-core nationalism across the table.
In its centennial, Turkey continues to drift away from Ataturk’s legacy, weakening its democracy to a point where it is devoid of meaning by democratic standards.
Ryan Gingeras – Professor, Naval Postgraduate School in California
I watched the election results come in on CNN Turk, which is generally known for its pro-government leanings. My original intention was to watch and see how they would handle Erdogan’s poor performance. Throughout, commentators on the channel remained confident as they discussed the results coming in. Well before Erdogan declared victory, one pundit was adamant that the opposition’s efforts at “manipulation” had failed and they would lose.
What did that make me think? It seems likely that a majority of voters live in a world shaped by what they watch on television: Many likely believe that the opposition was in alliance with the PKK, that Erdoğan delivered in the past, and that he’ll likely deliver in the future or, at least, that continuity is better than change.
Many observers credit nationalism with being a substantial force in the election. That’s possibly true. I would add that many voters may have simply believed that a change of government was too risky to contemplate.
Cengiz Aktar – Political scientist, essayist, columnist
As I’ve already foreseen in Kathimerini’s columns on several occasions, the Ankara regime has shown its resilience despite all odds, the earthquakes, the dire economic situation and an overall ethical decay.
Totalitarian rulers are supported by the masses who shoulder them at all cost despite all odds. Turkey showed a textbook case on Sunday.
Another teaching of the outcome is that totalitarian rulers may come to power through elections but don’t necessarily leave by losing elections. Thus, in addition to the mass support, the risks of electoral engineering were very real.
The opposition didn’t succeed in neutralizing them because they have never taken them seriously. They preferred to bet on the virtues of a hypothetical “Turkish democracy” and a nonexistent rule of law that were supposed to offer all necessary legal guarantees to have free and fair elections. Alas, they disregarded the hard fact that since 2015 not a single electoral consultation was free nor fair.
I won’t elaborate on the countless tactical mistakes of the grand coalition formed by the opposition, which ranges from extreme right to extreme left. With a single “policy” item on their agenda – i.e. “getting rid of Erdogan” – they disregarded the expectations of their voters. Not only did they not manage to please the youth, they managed to displease their own anti-Kurdish constituencies who shifted their votes either to Erdogan or to the neophyte fascist Sinan Ogan, the third candidate. The final result will be announced now or in two weeks. (By the way, Erdogan wouldn’t mind going for May 28, which is the anniversary of the crushing of the Gezi Protests in 2013, and the Monday after, the anniversary of the conquest of Constantinople!) In any case today the political landscape of Turkey is upside down.
Team Erdogan will continue to the parliament with a majority and Erdogan will be at the helm of the country. The opposition CHP cannot continue with the loser Kilicdaroglu – he would be replaced by Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu if the latter is not scrapped from his mayorship in the meantime. The fascist IYI Party Chair Meral Aksener would also resign and the extreme right would be united under Sinan Ogan’s chairmanship with the merger of the MHP and IYIP.
The Kurdish party HDP which fared poorly because of its stance to vote for Kilicdaroglu, who, after all, represents a party which is at the roots of all ethno-religious violence since more than a century, and which obviously includes Kurds.
Finally the regime will have extreme difficulties in continuing like before on both the domestic and external fronts. Erdoğan would need herculean might to convince his partners and the country for “normalization” on all fronts. A massive yet very uncertain story is unfolding.
Michael Rubin – Senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
Let’s face reality: Turkey’s elections are like Iran’s. They are a facade to win dictators legitimacy, but the system will never allow real change. Both countries now have supreme leaders who derive their legitimacy from their own notions of God rather than voters. For Turkey and its neighbors, the worst is yet to come.
Erdoğan is both too proud and too incompetent to change his ways. He has driven the economy into the ground and, like Saddam Hussein in 1990, he will look for an easy way out. That means more adventures, more militancy, and more distraction for his cult-like followers.
My only other question is this: Erdoğan used the premiership and presidency to amass billions of dollars in stolen and embezzled revenue.
As he eyes another five years, Turks should ask: Will their corrupt leader become the world’s first trillionaire?
Kemal Kirisci – Turkish foreign policy expert at Brookings
Τhe results are puzzling, disturbing and worrying. However, first and foremost, we – meaning analysts – got it terribly wrong and we need to better understand why we got it so wrong.
Secondly, we will need to accept that we will be facing a Turkey that is more nationalist, more conservative, more introvert, more transactional in its relations with the West and finally economically more modest.