Erdogan arrives at the NATO summit in Brussels in July 2018 (photo NATO)
Even if the Turkish popular strata are dissatisfied economically, they are resigned to the crisis and see no alternative to Erdoğan, who manages all the electoral engineering.
In many ways, the year 2023 is important for Turkey: the centenary of the Republic, it is also an election year. This coincidence is one of the reasons why President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could be re-elected. Indeed, the president would thus make it clear to the country and the world that the “New Turkey”, as opposed to the old one created by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is now consolidated and that it is here to stay. Symbolically, such an outcome…
In many ways, the year 2023 is important for Turkey: the centenary of the Republic, it is also an election year. This coincidence is one of the reasons why President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could be re-elected. Indeed, the president would thus make it clear to the country and the world that the “New Turkey”, as opposed to the old one created by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, is now consolidated and that it is here to stay. Symbolically, such an outcome would constitute the end of the de-Westernization of the regime and would confirm Erdoğan’s preponderance over Atatürk.
First, Erdoğan is forced to win these elections for personal reasons; otherwise, he would likely be court-martialed to face charges of corruption and countless violations of the Constitution and laws during his twenty-year tenure. He is also threatened by the International Criminal Court for his military campaigns in neighboring countries. He just can’t take that much risk.
Second, the opposition, with the notable exception of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), is unable to unite behind a strong candidacy. No leader has emerged to counterbalance Erdoğan’s undeniable charisma, which extends beyond his own electoral base. Despite this, the recent travesty of justice that virtually ousted Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoğlu from the electoral contest speaks volumes about Erdoğan’s willingness to take no risk, however small. Moreover, the “program” of government of the opposition boils down to two points: get rid of Erdoğan and avoid being seen forming a coalition with the HDP (and the Kurds in general). This will obviously not be enough to satisfy the disgruntled popular strata, especially young people. Finally, the weak link in the opposition, the Good Party (IYI, ultranationalist), which is only an avatar of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP, nationalist), the coalition partner of the Justice and Development (AKP, Erdoğan’s Islamo-conservative party), can switch sides.
Thirdly, Erdoğan’s electoral base, whose motives cannot be limited to patronage and charity instituted by the regime, approve of the government’s undemocratic policies and dictatorial ways. Even if the popular strata are dissatisfied economically, they are resigned to the crisis and see no alternative to Erdoğan.
Fourth, the oil dynasties of the Middle East, as well as Putin’s Russia, which sees in particular an opportunity to sow discord within NATO, have pledged to support Erdoğan and the struggling Turkish economy. The exceptionally large amounts of “errors and omissions” in the public accounts testify to this. Of course, the “anti-democracies” are not the only countries to support Erdoğan1. Western democracies support him indirectly by “understanding” the regime’s aggressive and autocratic behavior, inside and outside the country, due to fictitious “legitimate national security concerns”, mainly for the maintenance of the Turkey within NATO. Erdoğan’s extravagances, his endless victimization, his threats against Greece and his military operations against the Kurds are all “understandable” to Western countries.
Fifth, Erdoğan directly handles all electoral engineering. He placed pro-regime judges on the High Electoral Council (YSK). Council President Muharrem Akkaya is behind the first instance decision to annul the Istanbul mayoral election of opposition candidate Ekrem Imamoğlu in March 2019, thus granting the regime’s request . The regime will also appoint all the presidents of the electoral commissions, who will be able to refuse candidacies under any pretext, thus leaving the opposition parties without candidates in many constituencies. The maneuvers intended to ban the HDP go in the same direction. As for the counting of the votes, the Superior Electoral Council has teamed up with a company specializing in integrated defense computer systems, Havelsan, which belongs to the Foundation for the Strengthening of the Turkish Armed Forces.2. The height is that it will be excluded to appeal the decisions of the Council.
Moreover, the continued presence of Süleyman Soylu in the Interior Ministry and the reappointment of a loyal servant of Erdoğan, Bekir Bozdağ, to Justice, are assets for controlling the electoral system and the country. The deadly terrorist attack in central Istanbul on November 14, 2022 provides a glimpse of the potential violence. The semi-official armed bands of the regime will also be ready to intervene during the electoral season.
Finally, the regime is aware of the low support it garners from so-called “Generation Z”, sensitive to climate change, ecological action, LGBTIQA+ rights, animal rights, etc. It is in this context that one can understand the stubbornness of the Ministry of the Interior to prevent the creation of the Green Party, as well as the new law on the censorship of social networks. The electoral campaign will, once again, be favorable to the regime because of privileged access to the main source of information for the Turks, the television channels.
Erdoğan became an elected dictator after the regime change to a presidential system without checks and balances in 2018. Citizens who did not vote for him grumble, but eventually bow down in despair before the dictator and his regime.
- 1. See Hamit Bozarslan, Anti-democracies in the 21st century. Iran, Russia, TurkeyParis, CNRS Editions, 2021.
- 2. Created in 1987, the Türk Silahlı Kuvvetlerini Güçlendirme Vakfı (TSKGV) is a private law foundation that ensures the participation and control of the Turkish military over the defense industries. The Head of State directs the Board of Directors.