HomeMiddle EastTurkey to vote in key election, Erdogan faces toughest test yet

Turkey to vote in key election, Erdogan faces toughest test yet

Istanbul, Türkiye – As his country stands on the brink of its 100th anniversary, Turkish President Recep Tayyip erdoğan has framed the next 100 years as the “Century of Türkiye”.

The May 14 election could be portrayed in equally startling terms: either an extension of Erdogan’s two-decade rule, or a government promising to return to a parliamentary system from the current executive presidency.

The presidential and parliamentary elections are considered by many to be the most important since Turkey held its first fair multi-party vote in 1950, also on May 14.

They are carried out in the context of a cost of living crisis that saw inflation peaked at 85 percent in October and tremors in February that killed more than 50,000 in the country.

Erdoğan, who came to power in 2003, offers a vision of further development, vowing to expand on improvements made by his Adalet ve Kalkınma Party (Justice and Development, AK Party) government.

It is the second national election under the presidential system that concentrates power in the hands of Erdogan.

Erdogan’s challenger

The main rival of the opposition, Kemal Kilicdarogluhe has promised further democratization and rolling back Erdogan’s “one-man rule” while tackling what he calls economic mismanagement.

“This is perhaps the most critical election in the history of the republic,” said Bulent Kusoglu, vice chairman of Kilicdaroglu’s Cumhuriyet Halk Party (Republican People’s Party, CHP).

“There is also an awakening in society. With this awakening, if we are successful in the elections, society will come to a much better place.”

AK Party MP Ravza Kavakci Kan also stressed the importance of the vote. “This election is very important because we are currently at a rate where many very good projects are being presented to the public.”

“For the continuation of those projects and to offer new projects, especially to the youth, we are working day and night to find solutions to the new challenges that may arise. So this is a very important election from that perspective.”

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate for Turkey's main opposition alliance, gestures during a rally before
Opposition presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu at a rally in Bursa, Turkey, on May 11, 2023 (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Erdogan trailing in polls

The latest polls show Kilicdaroglu leading Erdogan in the presidential race, which will be rerun in two weeks if all three candidates fail the 50 percent threshold. In the parliamentary elections, however, the AK Party is predicted to be the largest party in the Grand National Assembly.

The withdrawal of a fourth presidential candidate, that of the Partido de la Patria muharrem ince – Thursday is expected to translate into more votes for Kilicdaroglu.

Interative_Turkey_elections_2023_6_How voting works-revised

Some 192,000 polling stations in 87 constituencies are open between 8 am and 5 pm (05:00 and 14:00 GMT). Each of Turkey’s 81 provinces counts as an electoral district apart from Izmir, Bursa, Istanbul and Ankara, which are divided into two or three electoral regions.

Nationwide, 60.7 million people are eligible to vote. Some 1.8 million Turkish citizens living abroad have already cast their ballots in 73 countries or at the borders.

The votes will see both the president and 600 members of parliament appointed for five years. Parliamentary deputies are selected by proportional representation from party lists.

political alliances

Political parties (24 are running in the elections) have generally formed alliances to run. This allows smaller parties that fall below the 7 percent national vote threshold to enter parliament.

The AK Party has aligned with the Milliyetçi Hareket Party (Nationalist Movement, MHP) and the far-right Greater Unity Party, as well as the conservative New Welfare Party, to form Cumhur İttifakı (People’s Alliance).

Kilicdaroglu’s CHP is the largest party of the six members of the Millet İttifakı (National Alliance), which includes the nationalist İyi Party (Party of Good), the conservative Saadet Party (Happiness Party), the Demokrat Party (Democratic Party ) center-right and two parties founded by former Erdogan ministers, the Demokrasi ve Atılım Party (Democracy and Progress, Deva Party) and the Gelecek Party (Party of the Future).

The pro-Kurdish party Halkların Demokratik (People’s Democratic Party, HDP), which is fielding candidates under the banner of the Yeşil Sol Party (Green Left Party, YSP) due to a court case threatening its closure, is the main party in the Labor and Freedom Alliance with the Türkiye İşçi Party (Workers’ Party of Turkey, TIP) and several smaller left-wing groups. He has endorsed Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy.

Two other alliances, the right-wing Alianza Ata and the Unión Socialista de Fuerzas, are also presenting candidates.

Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the presidential candidate of Turkey's main opposition alliance, applaud during a rally ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, in Tekirdag, Turkey, April 27, 2023.
Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition alliance, cheer during a rally ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections, in Tekirdag, Turkey, on April 27, 2023 (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

The voting process

Voters entering the voting booths will have two ballots and select either Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu or Sinan Ogan, who represents the Ata Alliance, for the presidency; they elect a political party on a separate ballot for parliament.

Both ballots are placed in the same envelope before being deposited in a ballot box. Votes are counted at the polling stations at the end of the day and a report is sent to the local office of the Higher Electoral Board (YSK). Presidential votes are counted first and there should be a clear indication of the leadership result by Sunday night.

The electoral process is closely monitored by volunteers, such as those from the Oy ve Otesi (Vote and Beyond) volunteer group, as well as party representatives, and turnout is usually high: a reported 87 percent in 2018.

Official observers keep a copy of their polling station’s ballot report and submit it to party workers, allowing political parties to keep their own count of the votes nationally. The CHP says it has recruited nearly 564,000 volunteers to monitor the polls.

In the 11 provinces affected by the deadly earthquakes in February, the electoral council set up polling stations around temporary shelters for survivors. However, it is not clear how many of the hundreds of thousands of voters who left the earthquake zone will return for the elections.

The United Nations estimated that some three million left the disaster area in the weeks after the quakes, mainly for other parts of Turkey. The electoral council says only 133,000 voters from the quake region have transferred their votes to new addresses.

“There are many unknowns that will only become clear on election day,” said Berk Esen, an assistant professor of political science at Istanbul Sabanci University.

“We do not have concrete data on how many left the earthquake zone. If they didn’t register at their new residences, they have to physically return to the earthquake zone on Election Day and that’s not really a realistic possibility.”

Amid concerns that the AK Party could challenge an opposition victory, Erdogan vowed on Thursday to do “what democracy requires.”

“I believe in my nation and those who do not respect the result of the polls have no respect for the nation either,” he said during a television interview. He also suggested changing the current threshold for the presidential race of more than 50 percent.

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