A Nation Divided: Türkiye’s Election Results

Türkiye’s elections have resulted in Recep Tayyip Erdoğan securing another five years in power, winning 52.16% of the vote in the second round over his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who received 47.84% of the vote. The victory extends President Erdoğan’s period in power to a quarter of a century, poignant as the country marks its 100th year as a secular republic in October.

Addressing supporters after his victory outside his 1,100-room palace in Ankara, President Erdoğan pronounced, “the entire nation of 85 million won.” President Erdoğan appeared to strike a conciliatory tone at the start of his speech, calling on Turks to “come together in unity and solidarity.” However, the President then went on to make harsh remarks about Kilicdaroglu, jailed Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas and “foreign powers”—an indication that his nationalist stance will likely continue in the new term. The remarks were notably left out of an English language translation of the speech on the official Turkish presidency website. In a troubling turn, some supporters were heard chanting “death penalty for Selo” referring to the jailed co-chair of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirtaş.

International observers from the OSCE stated that while the second round of the Presidential election was well run, media bias and limits to freedom of expression had “created an unlevel playing field, and contributed to an unjustified advantage” for President Erdoğan.

Identity politics took centre stage in this election. President Erdoğan’s win has been credited to his consolidation of AK Party and nationalist constituents through galvanisation of societal divisions and polarisation, taking advantage of skewed media coverage to label his opponents as supporters of terrorism, “LGBT” and supported by foreign powers. This is despite Turkey facing its deepest economic problems, such as high inflation and rapidly increasing current account deficit since 2001. This tactic seems to have successfully drawn voters’ attention away from the economy and the aftermath of the earthquake, as well as partly with the support of state aid and restoration programs.

While Kemal Kilicdaroglu, main opposition leader of the centre-left Republican Peoples Party (CHP) and President Erdoğan’s opponent, was backed by a consolidated bloc of six opposition parties from across the political spectrum, this failed to bring in additional votes from conservative and nationalist parties that make up the majority of the electorate.

Kilicdaroglu did not take enough votes from third candidate ultra-nationalist Sinan Ogan in the second round, despite using harsh anti-refugee rhetoric in the last week of the campaign in a desperate bid to win nationalist votes.

Erdoğan’s ruling coalition is now the most right-wing and nationalist in Türkiye’s history, raising concerns in term of the fate of various rights, including but not limited to minority and women’s rights that have been reported as deteriorating.

Geopolitical impact

Among the first world leaders to offer congratulations to President Erdoğan was Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. Ahead of the election, in a move widely interpreted to offer support to President Erdoğan, Russia had postponed a $600m (£486m) payment for Russian natural gas.

Western countries have already stepped up pressure to admit Sweden into NATO by the alliance’s July 11 Vilnius summit. President Erdoğan to date has blocked Swedish membership, arguing that Stockholm needed to do more to combat the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which is classified by the United States, the EU and Türkiye as a terrorist organisation.

Under President Erdoğan’s continued leadership, the West will continue to view Türkiye as a challenging partner that is nonetheless vital for strategic interests, such as the flow of irregular migration via the country to Europe.

Economy

The Turkish lira hit a record low while Türkiye’s CDS premium reached almost 700 after the election win of President Erdoğan, in a renewed sign of the economic troubles the country is expected to face. On May 30, Morgan Stanley predicted the Turkish currency would drop further this year, reaching 26 or even 28 to the dollar more quickly than previously anticipated given the Central Bank’s negative reserves. Türkiye faces the highest inflation rate in years running at more than 40%.

This obstacle is expected to result in greater dependence on economic support from Russia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, unless the government changes its unorthodox economic policies based on the premise that high interest rates is the cause of inflation.

What’s next?

While President Erdoğan won these elections, the decline of his and his party’s vote share, particularly in urban areas, will be of concern to him. Now the electoral campaign period continues, as local elections will be held in less than a year, in March 2024.

Erdoğan has his eyes set on the prize of recapturing Istanbul, the city in which he started his political life after becoming mayor in 1997, as well as other urban centres in which his Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost further support.

A priority for Erdoğan will be to cause the joint opposition bloc to splinter ahead of March local elections. With polarisation the prevailing politics, a splinter seems likely, and it will be difficult for the opposition to maintain a united front. However, the economy will remain as President Erdoğan’s primary challenge in this divided country, as all indications show that turbulent times lie ahead.