Turkey elections: perfect storm
Stormy 2023 elections in Turkey are a perfect storm. Both the presidential and parliamentary elections have come together at one point. We should also mention the financial crisis and consequences of a severe earthquake. So what? With a probability of about 80%, Recep Erdogan will retain his post following the results of the second round, that will be held on May 28. And he has already retained a majority in parliament. What does Europe get from it?
150 years ago, the Russian emperor called the Ottoman Empire “the sick man of Europe.” Then everything was different before the total modernization carried out a hundred years ago by the so revered by the Turks Ataturk. But now there are still many reasons to wish Turkey good health.
Does Turkish economy have any difficulties? Yes, it does. Therefore, we have to flirt with Russia to earn money on the transit of various goods there, the direct deliveries of which are prohibited. There is also the “green transition” to the EU, which requires huge investments from Turkish companies to reduce the carbon footprint.
It is possible to find new investments or just switch to less capricious markets. This prospect of cooling economic ties with the EU is a double–edged problem. It is painful not only for Turkey. Europe does not need Turkey's rapprochement with Russia, Iran and other outcasts. Europe does not need an increase in tension in the Balkans. Europe does not need the strengthening of Islamic fundamentalism that will clearly happen if the economic problems in Turkey worsen.
Pro-Western cities versus conservative villages
Difficulties with observing democratic norms. The situation is ambiguous with it. On the one hand, the twenty-year march of the current President Erdogan to create a very authoritarian system of power. This system was finally shaped in 2017 after a referendum when these changes were approved with a minimal margin (51.4% “for” and 48.6% “against”), as well as with numerous accusations of vote fraud.
On the other hand, the Turks' desire for the West as a way of life: the country has a relatively young population and it is becoming more educated (the proportion of those with higher education is growing rapidly). In the last 5 years alone, about 5 million new voters have been added to the number of voters, and in total about 64 million people are eligible to vote. Yes, Turkey has a larger population than France or even Germany.
How do Turks vote? They vote as if there are two parallel realities in the country. Developed large cities, as well as western industrial and resort areas. And a rural province.
Almost three and a half million Turkish voters vote abroad, mainly in EU countries, for example, a quarter votes in Germany. This is a very big force and most of them supported Erdogan in the first round.
Inside Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan received 49.5% in the first round, mainly thanks to the votes in central rural areas. His main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu received about 44.9%, mainly thanks to the votes in Istanbul, the western, most developed provinces and also in the extreme south-east of the country. By the way, this is the maximum for the main opposition candidate for all three presidential elections. The third place in the first round was taken by the hard-line nationalist Sinan Ogan (5.2%).
The battle for the nationalist votes
It is the votes that went to Ogan in the first round that can become the main subject of a fight in the second round between the main competitors. But it is not a fact that many of those who voted for Ogan will want to come to the polling stations in the second round on May 28. They are not satisfied, for example, with the relatively soft position of both leadership candidates regarding relations with the Kurdish minority.
Therefore, it is extremely likely that the ratio of votes cast for Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu will change slightly and may amount to about 52% in the second round to 48% of those who took part in the vote. By the way, during the presidential elections in 2018, Erdogan won in the first round with a minimum margin of 52.6%. And in 2014, he also won in the first round with 51.79%. That was the first presidential election after the 2007 constitutional referendum, which established the direct electability of the president and expanded his powers.
Erdogan's position is also strengthened by the results of the parliamentary elections. His Justice and Development Party won 268 seats in the 600-seat Turkish Parliament, or received 35.6% of the votes. The Party lost 27 votes compared to the previous elections, but it will retain a parliamentary majority in partnership with the nationalist allies (about 50 more votes) in the form of the People's Alliance (321 votes).
The main opposition parliamentary force is the Republican People's Party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi – CHP) of Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The Party increased its presence to 169 seats against 146 during the previous elections.
Conclusion: Recep Erdogan is most likely to retain his position as the leader of Turkey, but his position will be weaker than before. In conditions when he has all the levers in his hands that he received as a result of the 2017 referendum, this apparent weakening of Erdogan's power will not strengthen the influence of the opposition.
Will Erdogan's policy change, first of all, economic? Hardly. He has received a lot of votes, despite the six-fold collapse of the Turkish lira since the day of the previous presidential election. Discontent with corruption, which was revealed during the catastrophic February earthquake in the south of the country, did not significantly affect the elections.
What's next? The authoritative Middle East Institute (Washington, USA), shortly before the first round, predicted as one of the possible scenarios the Erdogan's victory in the second round and the availability of his People's Alliance (CI – Cumhur Ittifakı), which includes the Justice and Development Party (less than 300 votes). They expected more than 300 votes for the People's Alliance in the case of a scenario where Erdogan's victory took place already in the first round.
But in both scenarios, Erdogan's previous economic policy is expected to continue, albeit with small variations. It means the continuation of the recession, the continuation of the policy of low interest rates, the continuation of high inflation and lira devaluation. Variations consist only in how much this policy will prevent the agreement on support from international financial organizations (the IMF, first of all) and how much it will prevent the foreign investment inflow.