After 15 years in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will face his greatest political challenge to date. Following a controversial referendum last year, Turkey will elect an executive president for the first time. While the transition to a presidential republic had not been set to take place until after elections that are scheduled for November 2019, Erdogan and his political allies in the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), decided to call early elections set for June 24. For some three million Turkish citizens living abroad, voting will begin on June 7. The new system will give extended powers to the president.
Turkish political commentator and writer, Ali Bayramoglu, believes that the elections are revitalising the opposition. Bayramoglu was invited to the British parliament by the Centre for Turkey Studies to give a talk on the upcoming elections. He is known as a former supporter of Erdogan, “Because he represented a synthesis, a policy that could unite different strands of the society, the religious people, Kurds, the elite, that’s why I supported him”, he explained. “I’m one of those who supported Erdogan but now objects to him for his authoritarianism”.
Bayramoglu was attacked by supporters of Erdogan’s AKP party when casting his vote in the referendum last year, after having announced he would vote against the reforms.
Before the snap elections were announced, a generally pessimistic mood gripped the public due to the current economic and political environment in Turkey. The nation’s currency, the lira, continued to reach record lows, unemployment had risen, and the country was still under a state of emergency following an alleged coup attempt two years ago.
Some commentators suggest that Erdogan called the election early in order to take advantage of the divisions among the opposition parties, which are known for having opposing ideological views. But Bayramoglu pointed out that, despite the odds, the opposition quickly managed to come together and put forward their strongest candidates, who are now setting the agenda for their campaign.
The main opposition faction, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the emerging Good Party (IYI party) – which emerged after a split from the MHP, and the Felicity Party (Saadet) formed the National Alliance coalition to oppose Erdogan’s People’s Alliance.
Bayramoglu said that despite their differences, these parties want to break the AKP’s domination of politics and convey the idea that voting for Erdogan is voting against democracy.
According to Bayramoglu, CHP candidate Muharrem Ince has the potential to win 30% of the vote, but people are uncertain about what he represents or what he would do if he were to win the election. ‘It is a bit like how Emmanuel Macron was criticised by French intellectuals and the press for being an outsider being beyond the party system. A vote for Muharrem Ince is a vote against Erdogan, but it is also an expression of an apolitical system’, he said.
The Saadet party, from which Erdogan himself emerged, is re-establishing its credibility among religious people and is also gaining support in Kurdish bastions for criticising the way the government has been handling the decades-old conflict between the central authorities in Ankara and the Kurds.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is gaining sympathy from people who have never voted for them before. The party is going through difficult times after its former leader and now presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş was put in jail and the party later saw all of its 82 elected mayors removed by the state.
Bayramoglu believes that the likelihood of the AKP-MHP alliance losing its majority in the parliament is very high as people are increasingly reluctant to speak to pollsters, which could indicate an increase in anti-government views. It is, however, likely that Erdogan will win the presidential election, as a recent survey conducted by Turkish pollster SONAR revealed, for the reason that people are too afraid of the potential instability if Erdogan was not elected.
“There is definitely life in the opposition, but will the divisions in society actually win the election or will the ruling party again return to power? It is really difficult to predict”, said Bayramoglu, who added that in his position the opposition is not ready to govern, despite its new energy.