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NIAS Europe Studies
Turkey’s Election: Issues, Actors and Outcomes

  Rishika Yadav

Turkey’s Elections: A brief background since 2002

On 03 November 2002, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), a conservative party led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, won the general election and emerged as a successor to previous Islamist parties that were barred from running for parliament. He became prime minister in March 2003, and it is the first single-party government since 1987 and the first two-party parliament since 1961. 

On 28 August 2014, Erdogan became the 12th President of Turkey and appointed his former foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, as the new prime minister.

On 20 March, 2021, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention in March, triggering protests from women's rights advocates and condemnation from the UN and other nations. 

On 14 May 2023, Turkey is about to foresee the crucial and highly competitive general and presidential elections. Erdogan, representing the AKP-Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) coalition, competes against his primary rival Kilicdaroglu of the Nation Alliance, featuring the IYI, SP, and DEVA parties. Overseas voting began on 27 April, and on 10 May, ballots were flown back to Turkey. Turks in Germany turned out in record high numbers to vote.

May 2023 Elections: Major issues

1. Erdogan’s rating

According to MetroPoll's "The Pulse of Turkey" survey, President Erdogan's approval rating continued to decline in July despite efforts to improve his popularity. Erdogan's disapproval rating rose to 53.7 per cent, while his approval rating fell to 41.5 per cent, 2.7 per cent less than June. 

2. Outrage amongst the Women

The withdrawal of Turkey from the Istanbul Convention has provoked outrage among women's rights groups and sparked a gender debate in the elections. Only 17.4 per cent of the candidates for parliament are women, and the Halkların Demokratik Partisi (HDP) is the only party with a female presidential candidate. The AKP's campaign highlights traditional gender roles and family values, while the opposition advocates for women's rights and challenges Erdogan's decision on the Istanbul Convention. 

3. The Econmic Crisis

Turkey experiences a deepening economic crisis following the Covid pandemic in 2020, with inflation at its highest level since 2002, reaching 36 per cent in December. Despite the central bank's interest rate hikes, the Turkish lira's value against the US dollar drops by over 40 per cent. 

4. Fallouts of the earthquake

The February earthquake in Turkey has impacted the elections. It has exposed the government's inability to implement safety regulations and emergency planning, resulting in fatalities and criticisms directed towards President Erdogan's party. The electoral process was also disrupted, with calls to postpone the elections due to damaged polling stations and campaign activities being limited. The earthquake has also shifted public attention, with people more concerned about survival and recovery than their political preferences, potentially affecting voting behavior.

5. Opposition to Erdogan

On 11 May, Homeland Party’s presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, withdrew his candidacy. The withdrawal of Ince is advantageous for the National Alliance coalition under Kemal Kilicdaroglu as it could help him win in the first round. According to Metropoll, 49 per cent of Ince’s support will shift towards Kilicdaroglu while 22 per cent will shift towards Erdogan.

On the same lines, AKP’s alliance with the Islamist New Welfare Party and the Kurdish HUDA-PAR (an extension of Kurdish Hizbullah) jeopardizes his win. Erdogan also faces nationalist allies' pressure for a more hardline stance against the Kurdish issue and military intervention in regional conflicts such as Syria, Libya, Nagorno-Karabakh, and the Eastern Mediterranean.

What will be the outcome?

The outcome of Turkey’s 2023 election will determine Turkey's leadership, governance, economy, and global role, with Erdogan facing the toughest challenge, as young voters hold his fate. Parties such as HUDA-PAR, known for criminal activities, demanded the criminalization of adultery, restrictions on women's mobility, and changing the eligibility age for marriage.

Within the party, female candidates such as Ozlem Zengin say that these demands have crossed the red line. Erdogan faces growing discontent and criticism from the opposition, the business sector, and the public over his economic policies and his handling of the pandemic. Erdogan's decline in popularity comes amid his threat to block Sweden and Finland's applications to join NATO. 


About the author

Rishika Yadav is a Research Intern at NIAS.

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