James Jay Carafano
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is facing his toughest challenge yet in his race against Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) is a former civil servant from the “Kemalist” Social Democratic CHP. He’s currently just ahead of Erdoğan in polls for the upcoming Presidential election although his support has slipped a bit the past week. Elections are May 14.
What’s the bottom line? Don’t expect a candidate to win more than 50 percent of the vote, that means that the election heads to a runoff (there are four total candidates) on May 28. Polling of a potential second round of presidential elections has Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu 50/50. Erdogan will likely retain the presidency and a ruling coalition in parliament, but there is no guarantee that will be the outcome.
Who will control parliament? The same day of the first round of presidential elections, Türkiye will hold parliamentary elections. A six-party united opposition (left of center) is running against the ruling coalition led by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development party (AKP). Major issues which bode well for the opposition are Türkiye’s economic struggles, rampant inflation and the governments poor response to major earthquakes in early February. However, the opposition parties have little in common aside for opposing the government, which will likely become a headache should they win parliamentary elections.
What are the candidates saying? Erdogan has linked opponents with broader progressive social issues such for instance saying, “they are all pro-LGBT.”
The opposition has suggested reopening discussions with the European Union on a 2016 agreement where the EU essentially pays Ankara to keep migrants from flooding into the union. While the government has occasionally reopened borders to pressure the EU, and smugglers continue to operate from Turkey, the agreement has by and large held. Kilicdaraglu’s Foreign Policy Advisor recently stated “Many countries in Europe see Turkey as a kind of a pool, where migrants coming from the east can be contained and this is something that Türkiye of course cannot accept.” While some EU countries would undoubtedly welcome Erdogan’s departure, the potential for renewed large scale migration to the EU exemplifies a potential major impact for the EU should the opposition candidate prevail (who may be using the issue as a means to seek a restart of long mothballed accession talks with the EU).
So, what is next? Erdogan and his coalition should not be underestimated. Erdogan has lined up major consecutive announcements (starting natural gas production in the Black Sea), inauguration of the nation’s first power plant, etc. to build momentum heading into election day.
Regardless of the outcome, it is nonsense to suggest that the future of democracy in Türkiye is on the line. That the election is hotly contested is evidence that country remains the government of the people.
Regardless of the outcome of the election, Türkiye is likely to ratify Sweden’s accession to NATO post-election.
Further, its is unlikely there will be dramatic shifts in Turkish foreign policy, regardless of who wins.
In addition, regardless of who wins, it remains in U.S. interests to continue to seek to strengthen the bilateral relationship, particularly with an eye to enhancing stability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Greater Middle East and North Africa and extending Western cooperation and development into the Caucuses and Central Asia.