A view of Istanbul's skyline with the iconic Galata Tower, hours before a two-day weekend lockdown, in Istanbul, Jan. 29, 2021. (AP File Photo)

Two warnings for Türkiye’s 2023 elections

At the end of the day, the election result is part and parcel of democracy and no one can take away the ballot box from the Turkish people.

2023 started with competing predictions about the date of Türkiye’s upcoming elections. According to those claims, June 18 will be the date if elections take place on time. Earlier alternatives include April 16, April 30, May 4 and May 14.

Regardless of the actual date, any decision will consider major holidays and national examinations to encourage voter participation. The only exception would be sometime before April 6 – which seems unlikely since the ruling People’s Alliance would like the new electoral laws to come into effect before the next election.

In other words, setting the date for the 2023 elections is a technical question. None of the potential dates would amount to an “early election” for any of Türkiye’s opposition parties because they have been campaigning and forming alliances for two years.

The main issue, however, is the domestic and international atmosphere, in which the election will take place, and the accompanying discourses.

Fierce competition

The ruling alliance and the opposition will compete fiercely in the 2023 elections. Both sides have strong hopes for victory. Since the presidential election requires a simple majority, the intensity of democratic competition is perfectly reasonable. The campaign will be colorful and ambitious, and the turnout rate will presumably be high.

However, we must keep in mind that the way that both sides perceive the 2023 elections – that they must absolutely win – fuels rivalry and stronger language. That state of mind, in turn, promotes a sense of “moment of truth” and the discourse of “survival.”

On the democratic competition’s agenda are a clash of two visions for the republic’s second century and a debate over the country’s system of government, which focuses on democratic credentials and effectiveness. However, picturing the potential victory of one’s opponent as a “catastrophe” for Türkiye is deeply troubling. Some pro-opposition commentators, who urge the “table for six” to rally behind a single candidate and work together, explore the depths of securitization by claiming that “the one-man rule will become permanent” and “the next election will be the last competitive election.” To portray an election as a matter of life and death would only serve to undermine our democracy. At the end of the day, the election result is part and parcel of democracy and no one can take away the ballot box from the Turkish people. This country belongs to all of us.

Foreign govts’ interest in elections

The second noteworthy point is the interest of foreign governments in the Turkish elections. Fourteen countries will hold presidential and parliamentary elections this year: Argentina, Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Estonia, Finland, Guatemala, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Singapore, Spain, Thailand and Türkiye. Whether President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power for two decades, will remain in charge will naturally attract more attention than others. Indeed, predictions and commentaries have already appeared in the international media, starting with American, European and Russian outlets.

For the record, there is no reason to expect the Western media, which have charged Türkiye with “authoritarianism” for years, to be objective. Nonetheless, the political establishment must be on high alert over the possibility of some foreign governments trying to meddle in this year’s critical elections directly or indirectly.

[Daily Sabah, January 4 2023]

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