Turkey’s elections are to be under way in May the 14 and expected to draw millions.1 Due to a declining economy and a major earth quake earlier this year, this election is said to be Turkish President Recip Tayip Erdogan’s biggest test after 20 years in power.2 According to Turkey’s constitution presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held on the same day, with the president being elected directly and the parliament being elected according to proportional representation according to a given area.3 Erdogan is stuck between a rock and a hard place, on the one hand with rising inflation due to the economy and his failure to press for better retrieval of those trapped in the rubble of the previous earthquake have left him unpopular.4 Meanwhile the opposition has seized the opportunity to promise to improve conditions if elected into power.5
Erdogan’s politics are based on Islamic orientated values while the opposition looks to secularism and the beliefs of the Turkish Republic’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Who are the candidates and what are they promising?
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 69
- The incumbent is running for the People’s Alliance, a coalition of his AK Party and several right-wing parties.
- During his 20-year rule, Erdogan was prime minister for 11 years, before becoming president in 2014.
- Led Turkey’s economic and institutional transformation in the 2000s and early 2010s. This has left Erdogan with a lot of goodwill from supporters, who say their lives have improved. He is also viewed as strengthening Turkey on the international stage, and growing the country’s influence.
- But the country’s struggling economy over the past 18 months has eroded his popularity.
- He has been accused of cracking down on opposition groups, although government supporters said the moves were necessary following a 2016 coup attempt and the threat from “terrorist” groups.
- Promises: Continuation of the presidential system, lower interest rates, and a strong, independent Turkey with influence across the wider region. (Turkey elections: A guide to Erdogan’s biggest test at the polls)
Erdogan is facing an uphill battle to convince the Turkish electorate to vote him into office for another five years, although he has concentrated power into his hands through the presidential system he has imposed. Most world leaders would consider stepping down after having reached an advanced age, Erdogan is currently 69 going on 70. He is best known in politics for taking a more conservative tone, than his more secular minded predecessors. Although Erdogan has improved the lot of Turks living in the more impoverished interior regions of Anatolia often overlooked by the country’s liberal establishment, he has in recent years grown distant from Turkey’s public such as not properly addressing the Earthquake disaster or ending discrimination against the Kurds.6 The Kurds in Turkey are the country’s second largest ethnic group and like the country’s urbanized Turks are more secular leaning.
Turkey’s main opposition coalition the Nation Alliance and its candidate for the presidency Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, have promised among other things to have closer ties with the United States and the European Union.7 One bone of content for Turkey is the Syrian refugee minority which is the largest such group of displaced Syrians in the Middle East outside of Syria itself since the Syrian Civil War began. The Turks fear the long term residency of the displaced Syrians, and this includes the Homeland Party of Muharrem Ince who if elected into power want to deport all the refugees from Turkey.8 Only time will tell how this plays out.