Turks are gearing up for a crucial presidential runoff that will shape the trajectory of their country under the leadership of President Tayyip Erdogan. Seeking to extend his rule into a third decade, Erdogan emerged as the front-runner in the first round, although he fell short of the required majority. The outcome of this election carries profound implications for Turkey’s domestic governance, economic policies, and foreign relations.
Despite a deepening cost of living crisis, Erdogan’s popularity remains resilient. His conservative Islamist-rooted AK Party, along with a coalition that includes the nationalist MHP, secured victory in parliamentary elections, bolstering his image as a candidate for stability during these tumultuous times.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance and leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), faces an uphill battle after trailing behind Erdogan in the initial round. The opposition, led by Kilicdaroglu, has struggled to regain momentum in the face of Erdogan’s dominant position.
The election not only determines Turkey’s leadership but also shapes the country’s governance structure, economic course, and foreign policy direction. Economic challenges, such as currency devaluation and high inflation, are central concerns for voters. Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies will face scrutiny, while Kilicdaroglu pledges to reverse them.
Nationalism has played a significant role in this election, influenced by years of conflict with Kurdish militants, a failed coup attempt in 2016, and the arrival of millions of Syrian refugees. Erdogan has skillfully tapped into nationalist sentiments, aligning religious and national pride, and positioning himself as an anti-elitist figure.
The voting patterns of Turkey’s Kurdish population, accounting for approximately one-fifth of the country, will be closely monitored. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) endorsed Kilicdaroglu in the initial round but refrained from explicitly naming him in the runoff, urging voters to reject Erdogan’s concentration of power.
Erdogan’s firm grip on institutions and marginalization of critics and liberals have raised concerns about human rights in Turkey. Human Rights Watch has criticized the deterioration of human rights under Erdogan’s government.
The election’s outcome will provide insights into Turkish citizens’ perception of declining prosperity, diminishing equality, and unmet basic needs. If Erdogan is ousted, it would largely stem from grievances and a yearning for change. Kilicdaroglu promises to undo Erdogan’s far-reaching reforms and reintroduce a parliamentary system of governance.
The results will reverberate beyond Turkey’s borders due to the country’s NATO membership, economic significance, and evolving foreign policy, including its controversial relationships with Russia and Gulf states. The winner of the runoff will chart Turkey’s course for the years to come, shaping both its domestic landscape and its global standing.