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Turkish Elections 2023: A pivotal turning point for Turkiye's future

May 14, 2023 at 3:03 pm

Voters cast their ballots at a polling station for presidential and parliamentary elections in Erzurum, Turkiye on May 14, 2023. [Hilmi Tunahan Karakaya – Anadolu Agency]

Today is Turkiye is holding parliamentary and presidential elections which are anticipated to be closely contested. The current President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a significant challenge from main opposition bloc, the National Alliance, led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu who is the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The third candidate in the race is Sinan Ogan, who is head of the far-right Ancestral Alliance.

Muharrem Ince, the candidate from the Homeland Party abruptly withdrew from the election on Thursday, which many observers say will boost the opposition’s chances.  According to the Supreme Elections Commission, the number of voters who are entitled to participate in the elections is 64,113,941.

The Turkish election is widely regarded as one of the most important elections globally this year. The Economist magazine has underscored its significance by featuring it on its cover page this week. Moreover, it is arguably one of the most crucial elections in modern Turkish history, as it has the potential to bring about deep and fundamental changes in both domestic and external affairs.

Whatever the outcome of today’s vote — whether it results in the re-election of Erdogan or a victory for the opposition coalition, will have far-reaching consequences due to the significant divergence in political programs and positions between the ruling party and the opposition on various issues. This will inevitably shape Turkiye’s future and present in a profound manner.

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), over the span of more than two decades, has achieved substantial economic growth for Turkiye. Notably, the value of Turkish exports reached a record $254 billion last year. The discovery of natural gas reserves in the Black Sea, with promising potential to meet Turkiye’s energy needs for several years, and the remarkable recovery of the tourism sector have also played a role in creating additional job opportunities and contributing to the overall increase in the gross domestic product (GDP).

The considerable transformation of the Turkish economy and living standards cannot be overlooked. Over the past two decades, the AKP’s economic policies have lifted the country out of a slump and propelled it towards prosperity and productivity. National income has experienced a significant surge, with per capita income rising from $2,000 in 2000 to $10,000 in 2022. This economic progress has had a lasting impact on the lives of Turkish citizens and is unlikely to be forgotten.

READ: Erdogan condemns opposition’s ‘inhuman, un-Islamic’ aim to forcefully expel Syrian refugees

However, significant economic challenges await Turkiye in the election’s aftermath. In October 2022, the inflation rate, hit nearly 85.5 per cent, a 24-year high. Inflation decreased to 43.7 per cent last month while the Turkish Central Bank kept the inflation forecasts unchanged at 22.3 percent for the end of this year.

Nevertheless, the state of economy will undoubtedly play a crucial role in influencing the priorities of Turkish voters, whether they choose to endorse President Erdogan’s promises to address the collapse of the Turkish lira or to seek a change in leadership.

It is important to note that the economic difficulties faced by Turkiye have been influenced, in part, by external factors. The West, particularly the US, bears some responsibility for the Turkish lira crisis.

Not to mention the “black day” in which the Turkish lira lost 19 per cent of its value against the dollar after the announcement of the former US President Donald Trump doubling the duty taxes on Turkish steel and aluminium imports in 2018. This move was perceived by many as an attempt by Washington to exert political pressure on Ankara, specifically in relation to the release of an American pastor. It demonstrated how the US employed economic measures as a political tool to influence Turkiye and potentially undermine its regional political and military role.

READ: All security precautions taken for upcoming polls, says top Turkiye election official

There has been a noticeable Western stance against Erdogan, especially in the build-up to the elections. For instance, at the beginning of the year, the Economist warned that Turkiye “could be on the brink of dictatorship”. Erdogan also implicitly criticised the same publication over its aforementioned front cover, which included the phrases “Save Democracy” and “Erdogan Must Go”.

Regarding regional matters, Turkiye has established a strong presence over the past decade, becoming a pivotal regional player and an influential factor in various equations within the Middle East. Ankara’s role in supporting the Syrian opposition and its involvement in Libya are notable examples. Erdogan views Turkiye’s military presence in Syria and Libya as a principled stance, emphasising their support for “brothers with all our capabilities,” citing the “liberation” of regions such as Libya, Syria, and Karabakh after years of occupation. However, opposition voices within the country have called for the complete withdrawal of Turkish troops from Syria and Libya.

Turkiye has also demonstrated its regional presence by playing an active role in resolving crises, such as through prisoner exchange agreements in Ukraine and facilitating the Russians and Ukrainian grain agreement across the Black Sea. However, there are significant differences in positions between the ruling party and the opposition, including their perspectives on the presidential system. Turkey has been transitioning from a parliamentary system to a presidential system since 2018, with Erdogan becoming the country’s first president under the new system. The opposition threatens to change this system if they come to power.

These elections hold immense importance for Erdogan and the AKP. It will determine whether Turkiye’s political renaissance and strategic position continue or if there will be a change in leadership, potentially leading to unknown outcomes. The regional repercussions of the Turkish elections are significant, with implications for various regional issues. The outcome of the elections will not only shape Turkiye’s internal affairs but also have far-reaching consequences in the region. Thus, these elections are considered pivotal and a turning point in the republic’s history.

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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.