Turks vote in crisis election as biggest threat to President Erdogan’s 20-year rule


Supporters wave flags as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan holds a rally ahead of the presidential election on May 12, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey. Erdogan will face his biggest electoral test as head of the electorate in the country’s general election.

Jeff J Mitchell | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Millions of Turks are heading to the polls on Sunday in what will be Turkey’s most consequential election in two decades, and the results of which will Implications far beyond its limits.

The country with a population of 85 million has both presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. For the presidency – which is expected to be close – if no candidate wins more than 50%, the vote goes to a run-off two weeks later.

Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces his toughest test yet after two decades in power, battling a worsening economic situation and a slow government response to a series of devastating earthquakes in February that killed more than 50,000 people were killed.

His primary opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), is running as a unity candidate representing six different parties, all of whom want to see Erdogan out of power.

In a potentially game-changing development, Muharram Ines, one of the four presidential candidates, pulled out of the race on Thursday. A former member of the CHP, he was heavily criticized for splitting the opposition vote in a way that would hurt Kilicdaroglu’s chances.

Now, with Ines out of the race, their votes could go to Erdogan’s top challenger Kilicdaroglu, which could help him tremendously and cause more trouble for 69-year-old Erdogan.

Another important factor will be turnout: More than 5 million young Turks will vote for the first time, and the higher the youth turnout, the better for the challenger’s candidate and poll analysts say.

Campaign posters of 13th presidential candidate and chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilikdaroglu (left) and President of the Republic of Turkey and chairman of the Justice Development Party (AKP) Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) are displayed.

Tunahan Turhan | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

With such a high-stakes contest, many inside and outside the country are asking whether Erdogan can dispute the result if he does not win.

“The strategy he is going to use to try to tip the vote will be to use influence in the Electoral Board (YSK), the courts and the media to create a story that either re-run the election Go or they’re illegitimate,” said Ryan Bohl, a senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at RANE. Erdogan did this in 2019 when his party lost the race for Istanbul mayor by a narrow margin, but lost again by a larger margin after seeking a re-run.

Some also fear violence and instability if the result is disputed, which would bring more instability to Turkey’s already damaged economy. Turkish and foreign analysts and rights activists have been ringing the alarm bells for years increasingly autocratic rule Coming from Erdogan’s administration.

CNBC has contacted the Office of the Turkish Presidency for comment.

‘So much at stake’

The outcome of the election and its impact on stability in the country, which sits at a crossroads between Europe and Asia and is home to NATO’s second largest military, are paramount both domestically and internationally.

“There is a lot at stake for President Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) for the first time as their 20-year rule over Türkiye could end, as the unified opposition has managed to maintain a strong coalition and remain “On a hope-building positive campaign,” said Hakan Akbus, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services, a consulting firm based between Istanbul and Washington.

This is similar, he said, “to what Istanbul Mayor Emerk Imamoglu did in 2019 to win twice against Erdogan’s AKP candidate in the mayoral election.”

Imamoglu, a popular figure widely expected to run for the presidency as a formidable rival to Erdogan, was sentenced in December to nearly three years in prison and banned from politics, which was described by a court as insulting the judges of the Supreme Election Council (YSK). Imamoglu and his supporters say the charges are purely political and were perpetrated by Erdogan and his party to sabotage their political ambitions.

Turkey’s President and leader of the Justice and Development (AK) party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaks as he and his wife Emin Erdogan attend an election rally on May 10, 2023 in Mardin, Turkey.

Turkish Presidency | Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

Politically, Turkey is highly divided, with candidates using polarizing and fear-mongering messages in an attempt to inspire voters. But for most Turkish citizens, the economy is top of mind as the country grapples with a cost-of-living crisis with official inflation figures hovering around 50% and a currency that has lost 77% of its value. Is. Dollar in five years.

“Turkey’s next president will face the challenge of restoring economic stability and state institutions such as the central bank, treasury and wealth funds, and restoring investor confidence,” Akbus told CNBC.

“The country suffers from historically low foreign exchange reserves, a widening current account deficit, an artificially overvalued local currency, an undisciplined fiscal balance and persistent, high inflation.”

Even if Erdogan does win, Akbus said, “After years of low-interest rate policies that have contributed to high inflation and currency devaluation, he will need to refocus his economic policy to address the current economic crisis and attract investment.” will need to be adjusted.”

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