A crowd of people waving Turkish flags shouting slogans during the 98th-anniversary celebrations of Republic Day, Istanbul, Turkey, Oct. 29, 2021. (Photo by Getty Images)

The century’s most exceptional elections in Turkey

The year 2023 has symbolic significance for the people of Turkey. The most crucial questions are where have we reached after 100 years and what the next century holds for us.

It has become increasingly clear that the Republic of Turkey’s centennial will coincide with the most exceptional elections in its history. One could obviously object, asking the author to explain which of Turkey’s recent elections were not critical. Hence the use of “most exceptional” to describe the next election.

The year 2023 has symbolic significance for the people of Turkey. The most crucial questions are where have we reached after 100 years and what the next century holds for us. On the campaign trail, everything will be on the table – from the country’s leadership and system of government to a debate on competing visions. We will discuss which “new Turkey” will prevail across the board – from national security questions and the Kurdish question to relations with the West and the country’s international standing. The clash between the opposition’s hopes to end President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 20-year rule and the People’s Alliance’s goal of consolidating Turkey’s global and regional ambitions inevitably entails a comprehensive confrontation and challenge.

To prevent that comprehensive challenge from fueling intense polarization, the political elite needs to show due care and sensitivity. There are, however, several signs, which indicate that we will witness all-out competition: The debate over early elections and presidential candidates, which started back in 2019. The opposition’s accusations of “political murders” and “warmongering.” The new arguments and strongly-worded statements that the Nation Alliance’s largest members use to target Erdoğan. Finally, the main opposition Republican People’s Party’s (CHP) policy changes designed to keep the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in its corner – such as describing the HDP as a “legitimate counterpart” and opposing military operations in Syria and Iraq.

‘National survival’

Moreover, there is a change of perspective on national security threats, which started with the CHP and could influence other movements, and the resulting “national survival” debate. The West, too, tends to meddle in Turkey’s internal affairs and future elections – as they did in the most recent controversy surrounding 10 foreign embassies. At the same time, Turkey could face more pressure on “democracy and human rights” from the United States Congress (and some Democrats) unless Erdoğan’s meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden hints at fresh cooperation and an intention to repair the relationship with reference to the F-16 fighter jets. There is also the possibility of a new escalation with the Council of Europe in late November, as French President Emmanuel Macron – who already targets Turkey and Erdoğan’s reelection – could double down on that rhetoric. Greece, in turn, could be encouraged by Macron’s remarks and its new alliances to escalate tensions with Turkey anew. Last but not least, there could be fresh developments in Syria vis-a-vis Idlib and the YPG, the terrorist organization PKK’s local component.

Those are some of the risks that Turkey’s political elite will have to manage. I am confident that the Republic matured enough, politically and democratically, over the last 100 years to overcome those risks. We must never lose sight of the fact, however, that the 2023 election will have the most exceptional context in history. Indeed, that the significance of elections to our nation’s future is widely recognized attests to the importance of politics. The aforementioned risks, in turn, signal what needs to be done in order to consolidate Turkey’s strength. Competing visions, as opposed to a war of words, would strengthen our democracy in 2023. Yet the competition is bound to be fierce, as the winner will chart the republic’s course in its second century.

CHP and Good Party in fight

Nowadays, the chairpersons of the CHP and the Good Party (IP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and Meral Akşener continue to fight each other over launching a joint presidential campaign for the opposition. Whereas the CHP chairperson aligns his party closer with the HDP, in an attempt to keep that movement in his corner and stop any Republican mayors from running for president, Akşener attempts to distance her party from the HDP – whilst endorsing Ekrem Imamoğlu, Istanbul’s mayor, whom HDP voters could find sympathetic. Whether the HDP will become more radical, together with future developments in foreign policy, will determine how tensions between Kılıçdaroğlu and Akşener will be managed. Having faced criticism for giving up on the presidency and pursuing an imaginary prime ministry, Akşener recently said that she meant a “vice presidency with executive power” by prime minister.

According to that plan, the president, who will be elected under the presidential system, is supposed to transfer some of their power to a vice president, who will be either appointed by the president or imposed on the president by some kind of coalition. That proposal does not make sense under presidentialism, semi-presidentialism or parliamentarism.

The most exceptional elections in Turkey’s history will be held in the year 2023 but such odd forms of political engineering are most certainly not needed.

[Daily Sabah, November 2, 2021] 

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