Türkiye’s future hangs on Presidential runoff election

Kilicdaroglu (left) and Erdogan (right).

28th May 2023 – (Ankara) Türkiye’s presidential runoff election on 28th May is poised to have profound implications for the country’s future. Incumbent President Tayyip Erdogan is seeking to extend his rule into a third decade, and intensify the country’s increasingly authoritarian path, muscular foreign policy, and unorthodox economic governance.

Erdogan, 69, defied opinion polls in the first round of the election, coming out ahead with an almost five-point lead over his rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. However, he fell just short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff. The election will have significant consequences not only for Türkiye, but also for global geopolitics.

Kilicdaroglu, 74, is the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, and leads the Republican People’s Party (CHP) created by Türkiye’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. His campaign has struggled to regain momentum after the surprise of trailing Erdogan in the first round.

The election will decide not only who leads Türkiye, but also how the country is governed, where its economy is headed, and the shape of its foreign policy. The initial election showed larger-than-expected support for nationalism, a powerful force in Turkish politics. Türkiye has been hardened by years of hostilities with Kurdish militants, an attempted coup in 2016, and the influx of millions of refugees from Syria since the war began there in 2011. Türkiye is now the world’s largest host of refugees, with about 5 million migrants, of whom 3.3 million are Syrians.

The election will also determine the fate of Türkiye’s Kurds, who make up about a fifth of the population. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) endorsed Kilicdaroglu in the first round, but after his lurch to the right to win nationalist votes, it did not explicitly name him and urged voters to reject Erdogan’s “one-man regime” in the runoff.

The election outcome will also impact Türkiye’s relations with the West, as Erdogan has cultivated closer ties with Russia and Gulf states, irking Western nations. Erdogan has taken tight control of most of Türkiye’s institutions and sidelined critics, leading to concerns about the country’s human rights record.

Türkiye’s economic future is also at stake, as its currency plunged to one-tenth of its value against the dollar in a decade, and inflation topped 85% in October 2022. Erdogan’s opponents have criticized his unorthodox economic policies, and Kilicdaroglu has pledged to roll back much of Erdogan’s sweeping changes to Turkish domestic, foreign, and economic policies.

The election is expected to be closely contested, with a poll by Konda for the runoff putting support for Erdogan at 52.7% and Kilicdaroglu at 47.3% after distributing undecidedvoters. The poll was conducted before two hardline nationalists endorsed the candidates.

The polls will open at 8 am local time and close at 5pm, with a clear indication of the winner expected by late Sunday.

Türkiye’s president has pulled out all the stops on the campaign trail as he battles to survive his toughest political test. Erdogan commands fierce loyalty from pious Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Türkiye, and his political career has survived the failed coup and corruption scandals.

Regardless of the outcome, the election will have lasting effects on Türkiye’s future and global geopolitics.