x

Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 October 2018

Turkish Election: Erdogan's victory is likely, but size of margin will have far-reaching consequences

A united opposition has the ability to eliminate his majority, potentially sparking a fearsome response from the Turkish president

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at a rally in Mardin, in southeastern Turkey. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters 
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan at a rally in Mardin, in southeastern Turkey. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters 

In June 2015, Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party failed to secure an outright majority in national elections – for the first time since 2002. In response, Turkey’s pugnacious president called another, restoring his majority less than five months later amid an uptick in violence and tension. On Sunday, Turks will again go to the polls in a consequential snap election. If victorious, Mr Erdogan will be afforded vast new powers, concluding the most profound constitutional transformation since the foundation of the modern Turkish republic.

But as he sits on the threshold of supreme power, Mr Erdogan has rarely looked so exposed. While his ultimate victory is likely, it is the size of the margin that will set the trend for post-election developments. Having been largely dismissed, Turkey’s opposition now has a real chance of eliminating Mr Erdogan’s parliamentary majority and even pushing him into a second round run-off. But many observers in Europe and elsewhere fear that Mr Erdogan simply will not tolerate such defeat. In the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, Mr Erdogan orchestrated a vicious crackdown, rooting out thousands of alleged conspirators and implementing an ongoing state of emergency. His response to electoral embarrassment could be equally ferocious.

Sunday’s elections were designed to fortify Mr Erdogan’s authority. Brought forward from late 2019 to catch his divided opponents off guard, Turks would vote, Mr Erdogan surmised, in a favourable economic climate and following pride-inducing military victories in northern Syria. However, against the odds, disparate opposition groups have quickly united to bruise the Turkish president. An unlikely alliance has materialised between the nationalist IYI party, the primary opposition CHP – led by Muharrem Ince – a small Islamist party and even the Kurdish People’s Democratic party (HDP). Indeed, huge crowds turned out last week to greet Mr Ince in the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir. It appears opposition to Mr Erdogan’s constitutional overhaul has become a major uniting force.

Meanwhile, 12 per cent inflation, high unemployment and a currency crisis engulfing the Turkish lira has challenged Mr Erdogan’s notion that he alone can guarantee stability and prosperity. Eccentric monetary policy driven by Mr Erdogan himself has spooked international investors, upon whom the Turkish economy depends. And relations with the European Union and the US have seldom been more estranged.

Mr Erdogan is still adored across much of the country, particularly among the rural poor. But as he has co-opted Turkish institutions and cracked down on dissent, the president’s detractors have swelled in number. With public gatherings limited, HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtas behind bars and fears of voter intimidation and fraud, there is little doubt that Mr Erdogan will win the upcoming elections. But if he is denied a majority by a galvanised opposition, or forced to contest a second round, the threat of his reaction should worry observers in Turkey and far beyond.