What awaits Türkiye after the presidential elections are decided?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to extend his rule to a third decade as he enters the run-off in the presidential elections, next Sunday, in light of the momentum that seems to be going in his favor after the first round ended with his lead over his rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Erdogan’s chances of winning the parliamentary majority, which the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party and its allies won on May 14, are enhanced.
Erdogan also got another boost last Monday, thanks to the declaration of nationalist politician Sinan Ogan, who finished third in the first round of the presidential elections, to support the Turkish president in the run-off.
And the elections will not only determine who will lead the country, but also the way it is governed, and where its economy and foreign policies are headed.
As for Kilicdaroglu, he received new support from a far-right leader, in addition to a coalition of 6 opposition parties, including the Republican People’s Party, which he leads.
Erdogan, the longest-serving leader in modern Turkey, has championed religious considerations and low interest rates, while asserting Turkish influence in the region and scaling back the NATO member’s ties with the West.
The elections take place 3 months after the devastating earthquakes in southeastern Turkey, which claimed more than 50,000 lives.
What after the elections?
Erdogan is the country’s most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern Turkish republic a century ago. He and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party distanced the country from Ataturk’s secular approach.
He also centralized powers in an executive presidency based in a thousand-room palace on the outskirts of Ankara, and formulates policies with regard to economic, security, domestic and international affairs.
Critics say his government has silenced dissent, undermined rights and subjugated the justice system – a charge denied by officials who say it has protected citizens from security threats including an attempted coup in 2016.
Economists say Erdogan’s calls for lower interest rates sent inflation to a 24-year high of 85 percent last year and the lira to a tenth of its value against the dollar over the past decade.
Under Erdogan’s rule, Turkey displayed its military might in the Middle East and beyond. It launched 4 incursions into Syria and an attack on Kurdish militants inside Iraq, and it sent military support to Libya and Azerbaijan.
Turkey also witnessed a series of diplomatic confrontations with powers in the region, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, along with Israel, in addition to a confrontation with Greece and Cyprus over the maritime borders in the eastern Mediterranean, until it changed its positions two years ago and sought rapprochement with some of its opponents.
Erdogan’s purchase of Russian air defense systems has led to US sanctions targeting Ankara’s arms industry, while his closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin has raised skepticism from critics about Ankara’s commitment to NATO.
Ankara’s objections to Sweden and Finland’s requests to join the alliance also caused tension.
However, Turkey brokered an agreement that allowed Ukrainian wheat to be exported across the Black Sea, suggesting a role Erdogan may play in efforts to end the war in Ukraine.
It is not yet clear whether there is a potential successor to him who is able to enjoy the same status that Erdogan gained on the international stage, a point he raised in his election campaign.
What are the promises of the opposition?
The two main opposition parties, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the centre-right nationalist Good Party, have allied themselves with four smaller parties, on a platform that would repeal many of the policies that have characterized Erdogan’s rule.
These parties have pledged to restore the independence of the central bank and to reverse Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies.
The opposition also intends to dismantle his executive presidency and return to the previous parliamentary system, in addition to sending Syrian refugees back to their country.
The parties also aim to improve relations with Western allies, including the United States, and to return Turkey to the F-35 fighter jet program, from which it was excluded after purchasing Russian missile defenses.
Analysts believe that the policies pledged by the opposition may stimulate foreign investment.
Erdogan backed failed efforts to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while hosting at least 3.6 million Syrian refugees who are increasingly unwelcome amid Turkey’s economic woes.
Seeking support from nationalist voters in the run-off, Kilicdaroglu has ratcheted up his anti-immigrant rhetoric in the past two weeks, vowing to send migrants home.
How far is the race going?
Kilicdaroglu won 44.9 percent in the first round against 49.5 percent for Erdogan, reflecting the strong support the president enjoys despite the worsening cost of living crisis and opinion polls before the elections showing Kilicdaroglu ahead.
Later polls attributed that result to an unexpected surge in nationalist support at the time of the vote.
Erdogan says a vote for him will ensure stability after his coalition won a parliamentary majority.
Turkey’s four-decade conflict with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) was an important factor in the election campaign, along with the role of the main Kurdish political parties.
Although the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party is not part of the opposition alliance, it strongly opposes Erdogan after a campaign targeting its members in the past years, which prompted him to declare his support for Kilicdaroglu.
Erdogan’s criticism of his rival included accusations, without evidence, that he had won support from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency since the 1980s in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. Kilicdaroglu denied the accusations.