Turkey votes in key elections Erdogan faces toughest test yet

Turkey votes in key elections, Erdogan faces toughest test yet – Al Jazeera English

Istanbul, Türkiye – As his country approaches its 100th birthday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has dubbed the next 100 years as Turkey’s “century”.

The May 14 elections could be presented in similarly evocative terms – either an extension of Erdogan’s two-decade rule, or a government promising a return to a parliamentary system from the current executive presidency.

Many are calling the presidential and parliamentary elections the most important since Turkey’s first fair multi-party elections in 1950, also on May 14.

They come amid a cost of living crisis, with inflation peaking at 85 percent in October, and earthquakes in February that killed more than 50,000 people in the country.

Erdogan, who came to power in 2003, offers a vision of further development and promises to continue the improvements made by his Adalet ve Kalkınma (Justice and Development, AK) government.

It is the second national election under the presidential system in which power has been concentrated in Erdogan’s hands.

Erdogan’s challenger

The opposition’s main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has promised further democratization and the rollback of Erdogan’s “one-man rule” while tackling what he calls economic mismanagement.

“Perhaps this will be the most critical election in the history of the republic,” said Bülent Kusoglu, deputy leader of the Cumhuriyet Halk Party (Republican People’s Party, CHP) in Kilicdaroglu.

“There is also an awakening in society. If we are successful with this awakening in the elections, society will be in a much better state.”

AK Party MP Ravza Kavakci Kan also stressed the importance of the vote. “This election is particularly important because we are currently at a pace where many very good projects are being brought to the public.”

“In order to continue these projects and to offer new projects, especially for the youth, we work day and night to find solutions to the newer challenges that we may face. So from that perspective, this is a very important choice.”

Opposition presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu at a rally in Bursa, Türkiye, May 11, 2023 [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

Erdogan is behind in the polls

According to the latest polls, Kilicdaroglu is leading Erdogan in the presidential campaign, which will be repeated in two weeks if none of the three candidates pass the 50 percent threshold. In the parliamentary elections, however, the AK party is likely to be the strongest party in the Grand National Assembly.

The departure of a fourth presidential candidate — Home Party’s Muharrem Ince — on Thursday should result in more votes for Kilicdaroglu.

About 192,000 ballot boxes in 87 constituencies will be open between 8am and 5pm (0500 and 1400 GMT). Each of Turkey’s 81 provinces counts as a constituency, with the exception of Izmir, Bursa, Istanbul and Ankara, which are divided into two or three constituency regions.

Across the country, 60.7 million people are eligible to vote. Around 1.8 million Turkish citizens living abroad have already cast their votes in 73 countries or at border crossings.

The votes will appoint both the President and 600 MPs for five-year terms. Members of Parliament are selected from party lists according to proportional representation.

Political Alliances

Political parties – 24 take part in the elections – have usually formed alliances to run for office. This allows smaller parties that fall below the nationwide voting threshold of 7 percent to enter parliament.

The AK Party has merged with the Milliyetçi Hareket Party (Nationalist Movement, MHP) and the far-right Grand Unity Party and the conservative New Welfare Party to form the Cumhur İttifakı (People’s Alliance).

Kilicdaroglu’s CHP is the largest party in the six-member Millet İttifakı (Alliance of the Nation), which includes the nationalist İyi Party (Good Party), the conservative Saadet Party (Felicity Party), the centre-right Democratic Party (Democratic Party ) and two belong to parties founded by former Erdogan ministers, the Demokrasi ve Atılım (Democracy and Progress, Deva Party) party and the Gelecek Party (Future Party).

The pro-Kurdish Halkların Demokratie (People’s Democratic Party, HDP) party, which is fielding candidates under the banner of the Yeşil Sol (Green Left Party, YSP) party due to a court case threatening its closure, is the main party in Turkey’s alliance for Work and Freedom with the Türkiye İşçi Party (Turkish Workers’ Party, TIP) and several smaller left groups. She supported Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy.

Two other alliances — the right-wing Ata Alliance and the Socialist Union of Forces — are also running candidates.

Supporters of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition alliance, cheer during a rally ahead of the May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections in Tekirdağ, Turkey, April 27, 2023 [Murad Sezer/Reuters]

The voting process

Voters entering the polling booths receive two ballot papers and choose either Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu or Sinan Ogan, who represents the Ata Alliance, for the presidency; They choose a political party in a separate ballot for parliament.

Both ballots are placed in the same envelope before being dropped into a ballot box. At the end of the day, votes are counted at polling stations and a report sent to the local office of the High Election Board (YSK). First, the President’s votes will be counted, and by late Sunday there should be clear indications of the outcome of the leadership.

The electoral process is closely monitored by volunteers, such as the volunteer group Oy ve Otesi (Vote and Beyond), as well as party officials, and turnout is usually high – 87 percent was reported in 2018.

Official observers keep a copy of the poll report at their polling station, and party officials forward it so that political parties can keep their own record of the nationwide vote. The CHP says it has recruited nearly 564,000 volunteers to oversee the elections.

In the 11 provinces hit by February’s deadly earthquakes, the Electoral Council has set up polling stations around emergency shelters for survivors. However, it remains unclear how many of the hundreds of thousands of voters who left the quake area will return to vote.

According to estimates by the United Nations, around three million people left the disaster area in the weeks after the earthquake, mostly to other parts of Turkey. According to the electoral council, only 133,000 voters from the earthquake region transferred their votes to new addresses.

“There are many unknowns that only become apparent on election day,” said Berk Esen, assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University.

“We have no concrete data on how many left the earthquake zone. If they haven’t registered in their new place of residence, they’ll have to physically return to the earthquake zone on election day, and that’s not really a realistic possibility.”

Facing concerns that the AK Party could challenge the opposition’s victory, Erdogan vowed on Thursday to “do what democracy requires”.

“I believe in my nation and those who don’t respect the outcome of the ballot box don’t respect the nation either,” he said during a television interview. He also proposed changing the current presidential election threshold of over 50 percent.