President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has announced that the elections would take place on May 14. The 2023 elections in Türkiye, which the international media describe as “the world’s most important election,” have substantial symbolic value by taking place at the beginning of the republic’s second century. All the campaigns focus on which political system, vision and leader will bring Türkiye into the next century.
The latest announcement added May 14, 1950, the day that the single-party era ended by popular vote, as a symbol. Announcing the date of the Turkish election, Erdoğan referred to late Prime Minister Adnan Menderes: “The nation will say ‘enough’ to the inept coup glorifiers that appear before the people as the ‘table for six’ on the same day after 73 years.” He also updated the Democratic Party’s (DP) famous slogan – “Enough! The people have the floor!” – as “Enough! The people have the floor, the decision and the future.”
In doing so, the Turkish president created an opportunity to place two decades of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule within the context of Türkiye’s contemporary history. He also enabled himself to mount rhetorical pressure on right-wing parties that joined forces with the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), as part of the opposition bloc. As a result, in the future, Erdoğan can invoke a historical symbol: “The CHP will never change. So why are you in bed with the national chief’s party?”
If Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the CHP’s chairperson, becomes the opposition’s joint presidential candidate, Erdoğan will have plenty of opportunities to engage in that line of questioning. Likewise, if the “table for six” votes against the headscarf amendment in the Turkish Parliament, right-leaning voters will be receptive to the president’s critique of the main opposition party.
Moreover, the ruling alliance can easily talk about “an elected president under the tutelage of six party leaders” and argue that the opposition bloc “offers crisis amid global chaos.”
A symbol for elections?
Some members of the opposition, who accuse the AK Party of having promoted “one-man rule,” maintain that the ruling alliance’s decision to use May 14 as a symbol plays into their hands. They note that the opposition had told the single-party regime, “enough is enough” on May 14, 1950. They also recall that the opposition bloc calls itself the Nation Alliance and includes the DP.
I do not believe that the symbol of May 14, which revives the debate over contemporary history, will serve the interests of any right-wing party that is part of the CHP-dominated table for six. After all, the opposition bloc’s heavyweight is the CHP, as opposed to any right-wing party.
Any reference to May 14 as “the triumph of the national will” will bring up the CHP and the National Chief era. As Erdoğan targets Kılıçdaroğlu about the CHP’s dark history, the remaining parties won’t be able to influence voters by portraying Erdoğan as the “national and Indigenous chief.”
Moreover, the DP may be the opposition bloc’s most minor component. Yet there is no comparison between that and the political lineage of mass parties like the Justice Party (AP), the Motherland Party (ANAP), and the AK Party, which they trace back to the DP of the 1950s.
Again, the ruling alliance may undermine Kılıçdaroğlu’s pledge to “make amends” concerning the CHP’s attempts to change in 1946-1950. It could also make the case that the CHP has historically been unable to come to power in the absence of military coups.
‘Century of Türkiye’
Having transformed the republic’s “second-century” theme into a practical discourse with his vision of the “Century of Türkiye,” Erdoğan has revived the famous campaign slogan: “Enough! The people have the floor!” That slogan will be helpful for the AK Party as opposed to a group of opposition parties that cannot account for the ideological glue that brought them together – except their anti-Erdoğanism and commitment to the “augmented” parliamentary system.
Let us recall that the AK Party emerged as the representative of civilian politics following the military coup of Feb. 28, 1997. It positioned itself as the reflection of the national will and challenged domestic and foreign guardianship for two decades. It overcame many challenges, including the so-called 367 crisis of 2007, the closure case of 2008, the Gezi insurrection of 2013, the judicial coup attempt of Dec. 17-25, 2013, and the Gülenist Terror Group’s (FETÖ) coup attempt in 2016, by relying on the national will.
In this sense, Erdoğan does not go back 73 years by invoking May 14 as a symbol and using the campaign slogan “Enough! The nation has the floor!” Instead, he carves out a discoursive space where he can communicate the AK Party’s accomplishments and the difference his party has made concerning the various turning points in contemporary Turkish history. Accordingly, the Turkish president links his vision of “Türkiye’s Century” with the present and the post-2023 future.
It remains to be seen which side will better use that discoursive space. Either way, the agenda of the 2023 elections will mainly consist of taking stock of a century of modernization and the classic debate of democrats versus the advocates of tutelage.
In this article
- 14 May 2023 Turkish General Election
- 2023 Turkish General Elections Presidential Candidates
- 2023 Turkish Presidential Election
- Century of Türkiye
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- Turkish President
- Türkiye's 2023 Elections
- Türkiye's Justice and Development Party | AK Party (AK Parti)
- Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP)