On May 14, 2023, Türkiye will hold presidential and parliamentary elections. There are two likely outcomes: either President Recip Tayyip Erdogan wins, and the current political system is maintained, or his main rival declares victory and calls for a return to a parliamentary system.
This paper seeks to provide an overview of Türkiye’s political landscape and make predictions on how the results will affect Kurdish matters in the country. Interviews with members of civil society, technocrats, and Kurdish politicians in Turkey and Syria provided the findings.
Türkiye’s political map
Five political alliances were formed in the run-up to Türkiye's presidential and parliamentary elections on the 14th of May 2023:
1. The People’s Alliance: it includes the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the far-rightNationalist Movement Party (MHP), the right-wing Great Unity Party (BBP), the Sunni Kurdish FreeCause Party (Hüda-Par) who carried out numerous assassination operations against members of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and is considered to be the People’s Democratic Party’s rival (HDP), and the Islamist Welfare Party (Yeniden Refah Partisi) who joined the alliance after its leader Fatih Erbakan declined to run for presidency.
2. The Table of Six Alliance: it includes six opposition parties and is considered a continuation of the opposition’s Nation Alliance, a coalition between the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the far-right nationalist Good Party (Iyi Parti) formed in 2018.
The Table of Six Alliance includes firstly the CHP, a socialist and secular party established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Its current chairperson Kemal Kilicdaroglu is considered to be Erdogan’s main rival in the elections.
Secondly, the nationalist and conservative Good Party founded by Meral Aksener after her defection from the MHP in 2017. Thirdly, the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi), which is an Islamic party that finds its roots in the dissolved Islamic Virtue Party. Fourthly, the conservative center-right Future Party formed by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu after he defected from the ruling AK Party in 2019.
Fifthly, the Democratic and Progress Party (DEVA) formed by the former deputy prime minister Ali Babajan. He defected from the AK Party in 2020. Sixthly, the Democratic Party, which is a right-wing conservative and nationalist party founded by Suleiman Demirel in 1983 and formerly known as the True Path Party.
3. Labour and Freedom Alliance: it includes five left-wing parties, namely the Peoples' Democratic Party(HDP), which is a party that strives for democracy and a political solution for the Kurdish issue in Türkiye; the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP); the Labor Party (EMEP); the Social Freedom Party (TOP); the Labourist Movement Party (EHP) and the Union of Socialist Councils. The coalition was established in August 2022.
The parties agreed to run in the upcoming parliamentary elections with a unified list, without presenting a candidate for the presidential elections.
4. ATA Alliance: it includes the right-wing parties: Victory, Queim, Alliane, and "Dawlaty". Its presidential candidate is Sinan Ogan.
5. Türkiye alliance: Which includes 10 small parties, most notably: The One, The New Path, The Ottoman Party, Anadolu Unity, and Lovers of the Country.
6. Some parties participate in the legislative elections without joining or forming electoral alliances, such as the Democracy and Progress Party and the Future Party. The Country Party has nominated its president, Muharram Anja, to run for the presidential elections. Besides that, the Turkish Workers Party (TIP) expresses a desire to participate in the parliamentary elections under its own banner and slogan in some constituencies.
Small parties with a low voter turnout will be important for the two most popular alliances, the People’s Alliance and the Table of Six Alliance, in the second phase of the presidential elections and to ensure obtaining a parliamentary majority.
Balance of power
Three main power circles can be used to classify the political power dynamics in Türkiye. With the next elections, which will take place amid intense political polarization, there will likely be significant changes in these balances.
The Justice and Development Party (AKP), whose core ideologies of nationalism and religion are reflected in the Table of Six Alliance, primarily relies on support from Turkish nationalists on one hand, and Turkish and Kurdish Islamists on the other hand. The party has been successful in imposing its will on the country in recent years, especially after it replaced the parliamentary system with a presidential one.
Nevertheless, the Covid-19 pandemic, the refugee crisis and the cost of foreign military interventions imposed challenges to the party. Notably, the country faces an economic crisis marked by high inflation rates (according to the Turkish Statistics Authority the consumer price index (inflation) rose to 2.29% in March 2023 and reached 50.51% on an annual basis) and is confronted with rising unemployment rates (increased by 9.6% by the end of last year).
However, in contrast to its rivals, the party and its allies appear to be more unified. Additionally, President Erdogan possesses power that he can use to strike his opponents, which is what he did when he filed a lawsuit against Ekrem Imamoglu, the mayor of Istanbul, who was predicted to be his main rival in the upcoming presidential elections. He did the same with the HDP when he launched a campaign of arrests in the capital of Kurdistan, Amed (Diyarbakir), imprisoning more than 200 Kurdish journalists, writers, Human Rights and political activists, in addition to members of the aforementioned party.
The Republican People's Party (CHP) is a nationalist and secular party that formed the Table of Six Alliance on the 6th of March 2023. Kamal Kilicdaroglu, CHP’s president runs for the presidential elections on May 14.
The alliance announced a 12-point Roadmap to end Erdogan’s ‘one-man rule’ and return to a parliamentary system. Despite this, assuming the coalition's candidate wins the presidency, the disparity in political philosophies among the coalition's member parties and the sporadic appearance of internal conflicts paint a gloomy outlook of the future of governance. Once the Roadmap is put into place, there is concern that the new alliance government may not be able to govern the country. Given that voters are left in an uncertain and ambiguous condition about the direction of the government, which favors Erdogan's discourse, this could have a negative impact on voting behavior.
Kilicdaroglu's "battle" with the "Good Party" leader Meral Aksener, who opposed his attempts to enlist the People's Democratic Party and its leftist alliance, is another factor that may have an impact on his prospects of winning the elections. Due to this, Erdogan may receive more than half of the Kurdish votes, which would result in Kilicdaroglu’s defeat in the presidential race from the start.
The People's Democratic Party (HDP) is a leftist Kurdish party, who’s politicians succeeded in forming the leftist coalition. Since the HPD is not running for Presidency, the party welcomed the nomination of Kilicdaroglu as President, yet did not receive the promise of the CHP that Kurds will be given their rights if they win.
However, it is unlikely that the HDP’s voters will vote for Erdogan. This means that Erdogan will be interested in scattering HDP voters to prevent his opponent from getting them. Meanwhile, Kilicdaroglu knows that he will not win the elections if the votes of the Kurds are dispersed. Therefore, the two most fortunate candidates (Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan) will flirt with the Kurds from time to time in their speeches.
The Kurdish electoral votes are known to be "kingmakers" and expectations indicate that the alliance may reap more than 10% of the votes. So, if the balance is tied between the two opponents and the elections go to a second stage as expected, then these votes can play a decisive role in tipping the balance to one of the parties.
There is a tendency for the HDP to run on the list of the Green Left Party in the parliamentary elections if the Constitutional Court issues a decision to ban the party according to the Supreme Elections Committee.
The Impact of the Earthquake on the Elections
The delay in responding to the earthquake, the neglect of some provinces and the discrimination that accompanied the rescue operations are reasons that can affect the voting behavior. Erdogan attempted to address the problems by apologizing for the slow relief and rescue response (which is unusual) and promising to speed up reconstruction "within one year," but parts of the population believe that these measures will not be enough to undo the damage caused by the earthquake. The cost of the earthquake's material damage is expected to exceed 100 billion euros, according to the United Nations.
Nevertheless, disaster diplomacy can be a double-edged sword. In addition to receiving support of more than 50 countries, the current government declared a three-month state of emergency, announced a plan to build 200,000 homes across 11 governorates, and held a donor conference on February 6 in Brussels where it pledged to donate seven billion euros to aid those affected by earthquake in Turkey and Syria (of which only $108 million is allocated to humanitarian aid for Syria). The AK Party can and will use these arguments in their electoral campaign.
The Future of Governance in Türkiye
The discussion of the results of the Turkish elections is dominated by two possibilities. The first is Erdogan's triumph and the maintenance of the present political structure. The reintroduction of the parliamentary system and Kilicdaroglu's triumph are the second.
Both outcomes will undoubtedly lead to a number of unanswered questions, but this paper aims to focus on how they will affect Kurdish issues in Türkiye.
First: the return of the peace process with the Kurds? The ruling party's hostility against the Kurds is clear, and everyone with whom we spoke believes that Erdogan's victory will not only maintain the current state of affairs but will also intensify efforts to further tighten its hold on Kurds both inside and outside of Türkiye.
If the opposition has the desire to help the nation out of its protracted crisis partly brought on by internal conflicts, the interviewees think that the victory of the opposition may present a chance to resurrect the peace process. To regain confidence, however, steps must first be done, such as the freeing of Kurdish prisoners and the lifting of all political limitations on the Kurds and their political representatives.
With the exception of Meral Aksener, the leader of the "Good Party," who rivals with Erdogan in her enmity towards the Kurds, the positions of the Table of Six alliance parties are ambiguous and differ among themselves.
Second: The Syrian file? Due to the presence of a strong nationalist party within the Table of Six alliance led by Aksener, opinions on the opposition's position regarding normalization with the Assad regime and the return of Turkish spheres of influence in Syria to Damascus are divided. One opinion holds that the opposition will tend to put pressure on the Syrian government to implement the Adana Agreement of 1998. However, all opinions argued that the pace of the Turkish military operations in Syria will slow down while the expulsion of refugees will increase.
The rate of normalization with Assad is anticipated to slow down if Erdogan holds onto power, and he is predicted to start raising his expectations of Damascus. The majority of interviewees argue that he has been pressuring the resettlement of refugees back to Syria to gain electoral advantage from the opposition. The interviewees agree that he will keep applying pressure to the refugees to speed up the sorting process and keep only Syrian entrepreneurs if he gets re-elected.
There is a strong tendency to think that Erdogan will not cede power easily and may use any means, including rigging the elections if he feels that he has a remote chance of winning. A few days before the election, it appears that the two alliances have roughly equal chances of winning. In the case of a defeat, we might see a replay of Trump's electoral failure and the disapproval of the results. We might also see the army step in to help him, especially considering he has great control over them and other security institutions, or we may witness a new military coup d'état.