Turkish political life went through an important development in the past few weeks. Six opposition political parties have united and agreed on a common presidential candidate. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party, will run as the joint opposition candidate against Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in the upcoming election.
Another major party is the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Its support base has been largely Kurdish. In the early years of Erdoğan’s rule, the HDP supported his government. Now, the party is supporting Kılıçdaroğlu.
The first round of the presidential election will be held on May 14. According to recent polls, Kılıçdaroğlu is currently ahead of Erdoğan. Opposition party leaders are confident that they will win with Kılıçdaroğlu as their candidate. This victory is unlikely to be because of the opposition’s policies, discourse or promises. The opposition is likely to win because the economy is in a tailspin and the Erdoğan government has botched earthquake relief efforts.
A Country in Peril
The Turkish economy has declined rapidly, especially in the last two years. One of the most important indicators of this economic regression is the depreciation of the Turkish Lira (TL). According to the central bank data from March 2021, 1 US Dollar equaled 7.5 TL, and 1 Euro was worth 8.95 TL. Today, those ratios have changed dramatically, with 1 US Dollar now worth 18.8 TL, and 1 Euro fetching 20.35 TL. The collapse of the Turkish currency has led to rampant inflation and massive difficulties for most people.
According to TURKSTAT, the official statistical institution, the annual inflation rate in 2022 was 64%. However, according to ENAG, an independent statistical institution, inflation was 112% in 2022. Besides, in the latest Food Safety report of the World Bank, Turkey had the fifth highest food inflation in the world.
Inflation has affected every area of the economy from the automotive to the real estate sector. One of the most concerning areas affected is the housing market, as hundreds of thousands of houses have been built in the last two decades. Despite the increase in housing supply, prices have increased dramatically in the last two years. In some places, housing prices have tripled. In other places, housing prices have increased eightfold. As a result, it has become exponentially more difficult for young people to buy a home.
Erdoğan’s government has been hit hard by two major earthquakes that took place in Southeastern Turkey on February 6, 2023. The first earthquake had a magnitude of 7.8, and the aftershock that accompanied it approximately 10 hours later had a magnitude of 7.5. Erdoğan lost a great deal of votes during these earthquakes. More than 47,000 people died, over 160,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed and cities turned into heaps of rubble.
The late arrival of rescue and aid activities resulted in even more deaths. A humanitarian organization called the Red Crescent (known in Turkey as Kizilay) was the subject of widespread outrage when it sold 2,050 tents to another charity organization for a 46 million TL profit. Critics condemned Kizilay for not providing the tents to the thousands of displaced Turkish citizens in need of shelter free of charge.
Erdoğan is on the ropes. Yet it is important to remember that he has more than 20 years of political experience. Erdoğan has won every election he has entered for the past few years. He is a savvy political operative and could still win the forthcoming election as well.
Since first coming to power in 2003, Erdoğan has built up a formidable political base. He has millions of loyal supporters, who blindly support him. They are primarily middle-aged, religious, conservative and nationalist voters who see Erdoğan as the leader who gave them a voice. Erdoğan also has a huge media presence. He uses news outlets to disseminate propaganda. If Erdogan makes a speech anywhere, almost all news outlets scramble to broadcast it live.
Erdoğan’s control over the media is not total though. There are still multiple opposition outlets. They regularly call for the end of the Erdoğan era. Yet that end is not guaranteed. The opposition has been accused of complacency and many of its supporters are getting nervous. Kılıçdaroğlu is currently ahead in the polls. However, any assumption that the election is already in the bag could be a historical mistake.
A Turning Point for Turkey
Erdoğan has historically benefitted from the fragmentation of the opposition parties. This time, however, the opposition has found a way to unite, despite differing identities and ideologies.
Many of the opposition parties were founded by former ministers and prime ministers who once served in Erdoğan’s administration. For example, the DEVA Party was founded by Ali Babacan, who served as Turkey’s economy minister for 13 years. Part of Babacan’s tenure was under Erdoğan’s premiership. If Babacan wins the election, many believe he will be able to reform the Turkish economy and revive Turkey’s lost democratic ideals.
Another former ally turned opposition leader is Ahmet Davutoğlu. Davutoğlu served as Erdoğan’s prime minister, before stepping down from the position in 2016. Davutoğlu opposed Erdoğan’s increasingly authoritarian policies and went on to found the Gelecek Party, which is also known as the Future Party. Davutoğlu’s party has also joined the opposition coalition.. Many predict that the coalition of these parties will win over a significant number of voters who previously supported Erdoğan.
However, nothing is certain yet. Erdoğan could still win. If he does despite such unfavorable circumstances, the united opposition parties will have failed miserably. If Erdoğan loses, the election will prove historic. It will mark a watershed where a fragmented opposition united to unseat an authoritarian president.
Turkey will experience an intense election campaign in the coming weeks. The election has the potential to radically change Turkey’s political system. The opposition has promised to replace the current presidential form of government and return to the parliamentary one that Erdoğan dismantled. If Erdoğan is reelected, his strong one-man regime will persist and weaken Turkish democracy further. Needless to say, his election is a major crossroads for the country, and will directly shape Turkey’s political, economic and social future.
[Hannah Gage edited this piece.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
Support Fair Observer
We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.
For more than 10 years, Fair Observer has been free, fair and independent. No billionaire owns us, no advertisers control us. We are a reader-supported nonprofit. Unlike many other publications, we keep our content free for readers regardless of where they live or whether they can afford to pay. We have no paywalls and no ads.
In the post-truth era of fake news, echo chambers and filter bubbles, we publish a plurality of perspectives from around the world. Anyone can publish with us, but everyone goes through a rigorous editorial process. So, you get fact-checked, well-reasoned content instead of noise.
We publish 2,500+ voices from 90+ countries. We also conduct education and training programs
on subjects ranging from digital media and journalism to writing and critical thinking. This
doesn’t come cheap. Servers, editors, trainers and web developers cost
Please consider supporting us on a regular basis as a recurring donor or a sustaining member.
Will you support FO’s journalism?
We rely on your support for our independence, diversity and quality.