As Turkey prepares for a runoff presidential election, the country is facing a choice between two distinctly different paths. Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for two decades, is running on a populist platform and is considered by many to be authoritarian. Erdogan has been accused of polarizing the population and is facing criticism for the country’s high inflation and the government’s handling of a recent earthquake. He narrowly missed gaining victory in the first round of voting on May 14th. His challenger in the upcoming election is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s pro-secular main opposition party and a six-party alliance. Kilicdaroglu has pledged to restore democracy in Turkey and has campaigned on a platform of undoing Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian rule.
The election is seen as a crucial referendum on the trajectory of the strategically critical NATO country, which lies between Europe and Asia. Erdogan has positioned himself well to win the runoff, having received the most votes in the first round. But for Kilicdaroglu, the runoff election is an existential struggle seen as a choice between darkness and light.
In the lead-up to the election, Kilicdaroglu has pivoted and hardened his stance in an attempt to win over voters. He is urging nationalist supporters to vote for him, promising to send refugees back if he is elected and ruling out peace talks with Kurdish militants. Previously, Kilicdaroglu had vowed to establish economic and safety conditions that would allow Syrians to return home, with repatriation planned within two years. He has also called on the millions of people who abstained from voting in the first round of balloting to cast their ballots on Sunday.
In the first round of voting, Erdogan received 49.5% of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu received 44.9%. Erdogan is 69 years old and is already the longest-serving leader in Turkey’s history, having been prime minister since 2003 and president since 2014. If he is reelected, he could remain in power until 2028.
Turkey has been a crucial NATO ally, despite occasionally proving to be a troublesome one. Under Erdogan, Turkey has vetoed Sweden’s bid to join the alliance while purchasing Russian missile-defense systems, prompting the United States to remove the country from participation in a U.S.-led fighter-jet project. Turkey also brokered a deal alongside the United Nations that allowed Ukraine to ship grain through the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger.
Erdogan’s nationalist-Islamist alliance won the parliamentary election two weeks ago, further increasing his chances for reelection as voters may wish to avoid a split government. Additionally, he has received the endorsement of Sinan Ogan, a third-place candidate who gained 5.2% of the vote.
Despite Kilicdaroglu’s slim chances of turning the election in his favor, much could hinge on the opposition’s ability to mobilize voters who did not participate in the first round. Erdogan’s campaign has focused on rebuilding areas devastated by the recent earthquake and on providing aid to those affected. His platform is centered on stability, and while he has been criticized for his response to the disaster, many voters still see him as the guarantor of a brighter future for Turkey. For many Turks, this election will come down to a choice between authoritarianism and democracy.
Turkish Citizens Contemplate Future Visions as They Cast Their Vote for the Next President
- 27 May 2023
- 3 Views
Maxwell Thompson is a seasoned political correspondent who has covered elections, policies, and international relations for over a decade. With a degree in political science and a natural curiosity for global politics, Maxwell brings a unique perspective to his writing. In his downtime, he enjoys reading historical biographies and analyzing political trends.
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