31 May 2018

Turkish Elections and Why Erdogan Might Lose

Not many Western media outlets are covering the upcoming Turkish elections.

And since they might end up with a major upset, I thought I gave you a brief summary.

In a second post, I will outline the reasons why I think the opposition should hope for an Erdogan win.

Let's start with the elections.

Actually, there are two elections, the first one is to elect an executive president ostensibly styled after the American presidency as it exists in the mind of Donald J. Trump, al-Sisi be damned.

You know, someone who controls all three branches of government and, of course, the media.

Those elections are schedules for 24 June and if no candidate secures 50 percent of the votes a second round will take place on 7 July.

Concurrently, on June 24 legislative elections will be held to elect members of parliament (MPs) to a newly enlarged 600-member National Assembly.

The Players

There are six presidential candidates and two electoral alliances.

Tayyip Erdogan, the current president and the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), is the most popular candidate by a country mile. Various polls place his first round electoral support somewhere between 42 and 54 percent.

So it is conceivable that he could get elected president in the first round. But most polls indicate that this is not very likely. After 15 years in power with his pugnacious ruling style and his polarizing rhetoric, there is a palpable Erdogan fatigue in the country, even among his supporters.

Muharrem Ince is the candidate put forward by the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP). He is not the leader of CHP and he was designated as candidate when the party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu's amazingly stupid plan of fielding the former president and AKP founder Abdullah Gul as the opposition candidate did not pan out.

Ince is more popular than the charismatically challenged Kilicdaroglu and he is proving himself a decent candidate.

Meral Aksener, the leader of newly formed Good Party (IP) is a curious candidate. She was one of the senior leaders of the proto-fascist National Action Party (MHP) and left MHP when the party leader, Devlet Bahceli, blocked her leadership bid. She formed the Good Party to go after MHP voters.

The dark side of her candidacy is the fact that, most of the extrajudicial killings that took place in southeast Turkey in the 1990s happened when she was the Minister of the Interior.

Selahattin Demirtas was the leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP until his recent incarceration. He was the man who engineered the stinging Erdogan setback in June 2015 elections by pushing his pro-Kurdish party over the 10 percent electoral threshold and reducing AKP's legislative presence.

Erdogan responded by bombing Kurdish cities in the southeast and by removing duly elected mayors of Kurdish-majority cities. Properly cowed, Kurdish voters flocked back to him six months later and he won a bigger majority. He then convinced Kilicdaroglu to agree to a constitutional amendment to lift the legislative immunity of MPs and once that was passed, Demirtas was promptly indicted and put in jail.

This could have been the last footnote for Demirtas had it not been for Erdogan's infamous Afrin invasion. As the June 2015 electoral defeat for Erdogan was largely the result of the Kobane debacle what put Demirtas back on top in Kurdish and Turkish politics was the misguided Afrin adventure. Pious Kurds decided to give him a second chance as did the Turkish progressives.

Two Electoral Alliances

For the presidential elections, Erdogan and MHP leader Bahceli formed the People's Alliance which fielded Erdogan as its sole candidate.

CHP, IP and the Islamist Felicity Party formed the Nation Alliance but they decided to fight the first round with their individual candidates. Whoever gets the second largest vote will face Erdogan with the support of the other parties.

Given CHP's electoral history and the recent emergence of IP, most analysts assume and most polls indicate that Ince will be the opposition candidate for the run off elections.

However, one polster (with a solid history for accuracy) recently suggested that Aksener had a comfortable lead over Ince and was likely to become the opposition candidate.
First round results

This is very interesting for a very good reason.

The Equations

According to the same polling company, if Aksener is the opposition candidate to face Erdogan, she gets 54 percent of the vote and becomes president.

Conversely, if Ince is the opposition candidate, he loses to Erdogan 57-43.

That's largely because Turkey's conservative center cannot bring itself to vote for a progressive candidate. In the eyes of this segment, Aksener being a staunch nationalist and a practising Muslim she is seen as a major departure from Erdogan himself.

This is substantiated by the fact that 80 percent of MHP voters and 15 to 20 percent of AKP voters are willing to support her against Erdogan. Whereas the support figures from MHP and AKP electorate for Ince go down to 20 and 7 percent respectively.

More interestingly, while some 35 percent of HDP voters are willing to vote for Ince in the second round, a staggering 65 percent declared that they would cast their ballots for Aksener. This, despite her past record about massacring Kurds.

It shows how pious and divided the Kurdish electorate is. Her Muslim identity is more important than her past as Turkish nationalist who waged a covert war against Kurdish separatists.

Nevertheless, Kurds are the kingmakers in these elections. HDP is expected to clear the 10 percent threshold for the legislative elections. If that happens, the AKP-MHP electoral alliance may no longer have the majority in Parliament.

Erdogan is so worried about that prospect that he got the Higher Electoral Board to relocate polling stations from pro-HDP villages to pro-AKP villages in southeastern Turkey.

I would not write Erdogan off as he is a wily politician with boundary issues: he will do anything and everything to stay in power.

In this instance, I think that would be the best option for the future of the country.

I will explain why in my next post.

1 comment:

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