President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has confirmed that the next election will take place in June 2023 and announced his candidacy, reenergizing Turkish politics. For the record, there was already a lot of activity in the political arena, but now the chapter in which everyone will play all their cards has officially begun. That is why the year ahead will represent a challenging psychological test for the country’s elite. It is obviously normal for political parties, candidates and voters to feel a mixture of hope and fear ahead of any critical election in Turkey. Indeed, the campaign is expected to be tense and full of strong language – a staple of the presidential system.
A case in point is the United States, where polarization around the 2020 election left the elite severely traumatized. The storming of the U.S. Congress and Republican suspicion that the 2020 election was stolen have inflicted serious damage to America’s democracy. Indeed, some of my American colleagues are worried about the 2024 presidential race, which they fear will result in democratic backsliding and internal divisions.
Meanwhile, Turkey faces the anger of elites, who failed to defeat the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) for 20 years and remain deeply unsettled by that movement’s actions, on top of the new political system’s impact. It is possible to argue that the aforementioned anger creates a cluster of concerns on both sides. That is why politicians must steer the electorate’s psychology – whether they are on the government’s side or in the opposition.
The AK Party’s most significant contribution to Turkey during its rule has been its undermining of domestic and foreign guardianships to give politics the upper hand. In other words, it ensured that any elected official would have the mandate and power to make decisions about the country’s future.
Let us recall that Erdoğan defeated those who claimed that he could not even serve as a mukhtar to make sure that politics mattered. Some, however, criticize the new state of affairs: The opposition scrutinize the government’s actions day in, day out. Over the last six or seven years, the impact of the elections on the political arena has rippled into political life. Turkish politicians engaging in wars of words or describing next year’s polls as “historic” are directly related to that fact. Still, it is necessary to keep those tensions under control. Democracy creates a set of rules and allocates a lot of space to any players that accept both victory and defeat. Whether Erdoğan, who fought the guardianship regimes, or a member of the opposition wins the 2023 election, politicians calling the shots will remain a lasting phenomenon. We must not allow any form of domestic or foreign guardianship to seep back.
The coronavirus pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine war caused certain economic problems for Turkey, which the opposition view as reassurance they will win the 2023 elections. The outcome of the 2019 municipal elections, too, consolidated their self-confidence.
Various parties experiencing a mixture of hope and fear is extremely meaningful and ultimately beneficial for democratic competition. What I have realized, however, is that some groups, which fear that their poorly performing party chairs could lose again “despite everything,” are unable to control their mindset. The concern that the opposition could squander a great opportunity by nominating one of their chairs must not lead to exaggerated and radical interpretations that would ultimately hurt our democracy. Obviously, any effort to keep an eye on the vote count deserves respect. However, I describe the effort to spread rumors (such as that the government will win by cheating or force) to fuel fears over “election security” as a symptom of “reverse survivalism syndrome.” The claim that the government cannot be removed from power through elections is merely an attempt to undermine the election’s democratic legitimacy. Sooner or later, these types of allegations hurt all parties involved.
The opposition circles may actually be worried about the fact that the opposition bloc is all over the place. Another possible source of concern is that the “table for six” has taken too long to develop a program, identify its principles and pick a presidential candidate. Since Erdoğan has already announced his candidacy, the opposition may not wait until the final three or four months of the campaign. Perhaps they are intimidated by the possibility that the opposition bloc won’t be able to venture beyond the neoliberal economic model or that it has no response to the Kurdish question. Still, fueling fears that the government might cheat on election day ultimately evokes anger and a passive stance in weak players.
Obviously, the governing party bears responsibility for any action it takes – or does not. What really needs to be discussed is why the opposition cannot represent an alternative despite that baggage. The opposition seems to underestimate its own ability to make new points to target the government, instead fueling fears and concern.
The bottom line is that the ballot box calls the shots in Turkey.
In this article
- 14 May 2023 Turkish General Election
- 2023 Turkish Presidential Election
- Daily Sabah
- Election Security
- Presidential Government System
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- Table for Six | Turkish Opposition Alliance
- Turkish Opposition
- Türkiye's 2023 Elections
- Türkiye's Justice and Development Party | AK Party (AK Parti)