Erdogan’s Uphill Battle for Survival in Upcoming Turkish Elections
As Turkey prepares for presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a challenging battle for survival. Erdogan’s traditional approach of delivering economic growth and upward mobility in exchange for political support or quiescence is no longer effective. His monetary policies have resulted in a fragile economy, high inflation, and growing poverty and income disparity. Moreover, the opposition, once weak and divided, is now united and stands firmly behind Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the social-democratic Republican People’s Party.
The earthquake in February that killed over 50,000 people exposed institutional decay and inefficiency under Erdogan’s one-man rule. The government’s failure in search and rescue efforts and post-disaster relief management highlighted the corruption and incompetence of the governmental agencies. Despite the factors that should result in a significant defeat for Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party, elections are no longer free and fair in Erdogan’s Turkey. The government controls most of the media and the judicial system, and Erdogan may refuse to concede in the absence of a strong margin of victory for the opposition.
In this tight contest, Kilicdaroglu’s success in winning with over 50% of the vote in the first round depends on the resurgent candidacy of Muharrem Ince, who has emerged as a populist disrupter. Given the stakes, the whole country is on edge, ready for change, but also anxious and incredulous about the prospect of Erdogan losing power. However, Erdogan’s biggest advantage is his aura of political invincibility, and there is a fatalistic resignation that he will find a way to stay in power.
Despite the illiberal nature of strongman rule, elections will continue to matter if Turkish people are not intimidated by Erdogan. Turkish democracy will outlast Erdogan, even if he scores a pyrrhic short-term victory. Erdogan is now at his weakest, and if he wins on May 14, it will not be because of his capacity to govern or his populist policies, but because too many Turks still believe he is invincible.