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HomeGeopolitical CompassWest & Centeral AsiaPost-2023 Election Scenarios in Turkey

Post-2023 Election Scenarios in Turkey

Author: Berk Esen

Affiliation: Sabancı University, Faculty of Arts & Social Sciences

Organization/Publisher: SWP German Institute for International and Security Affairs 

Date/Place:  September 22, 2022/Berlin, Germany

Type of Literature: Article 

Word Count: 4500 

Link: https://www.swp-berlin.org/en/publication/post-2023-election-scenarios-in-turkey

 

Keywords: Türkiye, Political Parties, Election Scenarios, Economic Crisis, Foreign Policy, Post-Erdogan Era

 

Brief:

 

In his analysis of the post-2023 election scenarios in Turkey, Berk Esen argues that the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, set to take place by June 2023, will mark the first time in Erdogan’s 20 years in power that he is not the clear favorite due to economic struggles and divisions within his AKP party. Six opposition parties have united to select a joint presidential candidate with a chance of defeating Erdogan, but even if they succeed, the new government will face significant challenges, including establishing a “meritocratic bureaucracy,” revising diplomatic and economic policies, and restoring the parliamentary system of government. Esen also discusses the current state of the Turkish political and economic landscape and the potential for election fraud. He highlights the significant challenges that a post-Erdoğan government would need to tackle.

 

According to Esen, the AKP’s decreasing popularity and poor performance in opinion polls can be attributed to the economic crisis in Turkey, which threatens the party’s ability to secure more than 50% of the vote share in the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. The opposition parties, including the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Future Party (GP), the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), and the Nation Alliance (consisting of the Turkish Nationalist Good Party (İyiP), the Islamist Felicity Party (SP), and the Democrat Party (DP)), are more united than in previous elections and have a greater chance of defeating Erdogan and the AKP. Esen anticipates that the election will be highly polarized, with the ruling bloc having control over resources, media, and bureaucracy, and warns that Erdogan may resort to repression against Kurdish groups or military action to divert attention from economic issues and bolster his candidacy. However, he believes that such actions would not be sufficient to halt the decline in Erdogan’s support or prevent the rise of the opposition. Esen also raises concerns about the fairness of the election, given the government’s control over media, bureaucracy, and the judiciary, which could make it difficult for a smooth transfer of power to take place.

 

Esen discusses several post-election scenarios in Turkey. It is expected that the ruling bloc will not be able to maintain its parliamentary majority, but Erdogan may still win the presidential election and be confronted with an opposition-dominated parliament. Under the presidential system, this would not pose a significant challenge, as the president has more power and the parliament has fewer checks on their authority. If the opposition were to win the presidential election, the parliamentary composition would depend on the outcome of the presidential race. It is difficult to predict the allocation of seats between the ruling People’s Alliance and the opposition Nation’s Alliance based on opinion polls. The decision of the opposition parties to participate in the election through joint lists under the main opposition parties (the CHP and the İyiP) or to run on their own parties could also impact the allocation of seats. The potential presence of another alliance, such as the HDP forming an alliance with far-leftist parties like the Worker’s Party of Turkey (TIP), could also influence the parliamentary allocation of seats. The HDP, which received about 11.7% of the votes in 2018 and is expected to continue performing well based on opinion polls, could serve as a key party in balancing the two large blocs in parliament. However, the increasing support for the anti-refugee populist Victory Party (ZP) could disrupt the opposition vote if they manage to attract public support but do not reach the parliamentary threshold of 7% of the vote. Another scenario is Erdogan losing the presidency to a candidate from the Nation Alliance. In this case, the AKP would face difficulties, as they would be denied access to public resources, which could impact the party’s functioning and Erdogan’s ability to lead the party in opposition for a long period of time, given the personalistic nature of the party and its weak institutions. 

 

Esen emphasizes the severe challenges that a post-Erdoğan government would face. One of the top priorities for the new government would be to restore the parliamentary system and transfer the extensive powers of the presidency back to the parliament. The new government would also need to address the economic crisis and work towards sustainable development. While the opposition parties have a strong team of economists who could develop a recovery plan, it is uncertain which party would be responsible for the economic portfolio in the new government. Additionally, not all parties have fully developed their economic programs, such as the CHP, which is the only left-leaning party in the alliance.

 

Another challenge for a post-Erdoğan government would be the development of a new foreign policy that moves away from Erdogan’s “revisionist agenda,” which has caused tensions with the EU, NATO, and neighboring countries. The new government would need to restore Turkey’s international position and improve relationships with the EU, NATO, and its surrounding countries. Esen suggests that a new leadership may be able to win goodwill from EU governments towards Turkey, though it may take time to fully repair bilateral relations, particularly with issues such as Cyprus, border tensions with Greece, and the refugee crisis. However, the opposition has not yet developed a clear vision for maintaining relations with Russia and Iran, which could overlap with Turkish-Syrian relations given the complex dynamic between the three countries. Major opposition parties like the CHP and İyiP have expressed a willingness to open channels with the al-Assad regime in order to reach an agreement for the military pullout in exchange for the return of Syrian refugees. Additionally, the opposition parties have different foreign policy agendas, which could hinder the development of a consistent foreign policy and diplomacy. 

 

Another significant challenge for the new government would be developing a migration policy that addresses the issue of hosting a large number of refugees (nearly six million) in Turkey, particularly amid the current economic crisis and increasing sentiment against the long-term settlement of Syrian refugees in Turkey. While most of the opposition parties have included the refugee issue in their programs and have similar agendas regarding the status of Syrians in Turkey, they have not made it a “main campaign issue.” This has opened the door for the anti-refugee Victory Party (ZP), a single-issue party focused on expelling Syrians, to gain public interest, with estimates of support ranging from 1-4% in public polls. The opposition parties’ tendency to advocate for the voluntary return of Syrians is driven by a fear of losing votes to anti-refugee parties and a desire to shift the public’s attention to the economic crisis. However, the voluntary return of refugees is not a practical solution due to the Syrian government’s unwillingness, the refugees’ unwillingness, and the high cost of settlement in Turkish-controlled areas. Esen suggests that the new government needs to develop new policies and instruments to address the issue, including “resettlement in third countries, repatriation, and integration.”

 

Reforming the civil service is another challenge for a post-Erdoğan government, as it would involve replacing partisans in the civil service, military, and judiciary, who may resist the new political agenda, particularly in bureaucracy and military institutions. The opposition parties recognize the need for reform and change, but they are not in agreement on the mechanism for reform or the cadres who should replace current officials. Additionally, the opposition parties, with the exception of the two splinter parties from the AKP, have a shortage of experienced cadres due to their exclusion from public office under AKP governments. Overall, the opposition alliance has not yet developed comprehensive policies on issues such as the economy, refugee crisis, and civil service reform. However, they will need to make tough decisions and address their divisions on various issues, including foreign affairs, the Kurdish dilemma, and public office appointments. They will also need to restore the parliamentary system through constitutional amendments, taking into account the history of weak coalition governments in Turkey. Finally, Esen notes that in a post-Erdoğan era, Turkey may seek rapprochement with the EU, and the EU could play a constructive and supportive role in the transition period, including monitoring elections and cooperating in areas such as the economy, migration, security, and climate to ensure mutual benefits.

 

By: Yomna Süleyman, CIGA Research Associate

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