Author: Zura Batiashvili, Research Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
On May 14, 2023, presidential and parliamentary elections were held in Turkey, and on May 28, it became necessary to hold a second round of the presidential elections.
What were the results of the Turkish elections and what can we expect in the future?
Acting President of the Republic of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the election once again
The incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was declared the winner of the 2023 Turkish presidential elections, although it became necessary to hold a second round, as he collected just 49.5% of the votes on May 14 and as such was short of victory in the first round.
Erdogan was able to easily mobilize his supporters in the second round, and received 52.2% of the votes. In the second round of the elections, he was supported by Sinan Ogan, the nationalist candidate who took third place, having received 5.2% of the votes in the first round.
These elections have shown once again that Erdogan’s core voters are from the conservative and nationalist inner Anatolia and Black Sea regions. He also has millions of supporters in the big cities, including Istanbul and Ankara. Erdogan lost these cities by only a small margin (3.5% and 2.5% respectively). If it had been otherwise, then the votes of the big cities could have altered the overall picture of the elections.
The results of the second round of Turkish presidential elections by governorates
Erdogan and his team worked well on their own voters and appeared better off than the opposition from an organizational point of view.
The government responded to the economic difficulties in the country by increasing salaries and pensions, and by introducing cheap credits and various economic benefits (for example, they gave citizens natural gas for free for one month, and promised to raise salaries even more). All the while, in the political domain, they defended the presidential form of government (which the opposition promised to replace with a parliamentary one if victorious), and strengthened the conservative and nationalist narrative throughout the pre-election campaign.
The united opposition, which included political parties of six different orientations (left-center, right-center, nationalists, and conservatives), made numerous mistakes and were rewarded with the appropriate consequences. Among the mistakes, the following can be underscored:
- Selection of the less proactive, almost entirely uncharismatic, and non-Sunni Kemal Kilicdaroglu as the presidential candidate (Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu or Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavash, who had both charisma and the chance to apply the formula that won the big cities for them countrywide, might have had a better chance);
- The opposition also made a serious mistake in their communication with the voters. They could not take advantage of the difficult situation reigning in the country. The opposition lost even in places (for example, in the regions affected by the earthquake in February, which cost the lives of more than 50,000 citizens) where, at first glance, they had all the conditions for success. But they did little work in this direction. Somehow, they assumed that the majority of victims would automatically vote for them. But they missed or did not pay attention to the fact that the government was working there, providing help to the victims and potential future voters;
- They could not properly see the growth of conservative and nationalist sentiments in the country. Calls by the opposition to expel Syrian refugees have had little effect. Kemal Kilicdaroglu signed an agreement with some of the nationalists after the first round of the elections, but from the point of view of the electorate, it was not a big gain, because in the second round this move cost him the votes of citizens of Kurdish origin;
- The opposition was not able to offer citizens a specific plan to remedy economic difficulties. They limited themselves to the simple promise that, in case of victory, they would return to the orthodox economic policy, increase wages, and write off the citizens’ bank debts. As it turned out, this promise had little impact;
- They were not able to clearly counter the government’s accusation of their alleged connection with the PKK (“Kurdistan Workers’ Party”, considered a terrorist organization in Turkey). This accusation was strengthened by the fact that the pro-Kurdish forces did not put up their own candidate in the presidential elections and indirectly supported Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy.
After the announcement of the election results, the candidate of the united opposition has so far only been able to criticize the government, accusing it of mobilizing state administrative resources for the election and of “conducting the most unfair elections in recent years.”
The ruling coalition convincingly won in the parliamentary elections too. Alongside Erdogan’s conservative AK Parti (“Justice and Revival Party”), the coalition includes the ultra-nationalist MHP (“Nationalist Movement Party”) and several other small conservative political parties.
In the parliamentary elections held on May 14, the ruling party received 49.5% of the votes, thus it was able to elect 323 deputies to the 600-member parliament, that is, the majority of mandates in the new parliament and will allow Erdogan to freely approve the budget, pass and approve desired laws, etc.
Accordingly, the united opposition received unfavorable results in the parliamentary elections, receiving only 35% of the votes, and entering the parliament with 212 deputies.
Compared to the previous parliamentary elections, the pro-Kurdish forces also showed a bad result, getting 10.6% of the votes and thus managing to win just 64 seats in the new parliament.
Several small nationalist parties also participated in the parliamentary elections. Although they received a fair amount of votes, it was still insufficient to overcome the existing 7% parliamentary threshold, leaving them outside Parliament.
Composition of the new parliament of Turkey
The opposition made a number of mistakes in relation to the parliamentary elections, perhaps the main one being their strategy to focus mainly on winning the presidential elections, and therefore relatively neglecting the parliamentary elections.
Retrospectively, it was a miscalculation. Victory in the parliamentary elections before the second round gave a moral advantage to the ruling power of Turkey, and this fact played an important role in Erdogan’s second-round victory.
- As the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party won the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey, it is expected that the domestic and foreign policies of the last 21 years will continue;
- At the same time, depending on the general mood of the voters, the role of political conservatism and nationalism in Turkish politics may increase even more;
- The main issue facing Turkey, and therefore its leadership, at the moment is economic difficulties (the devaluation of the Turkish Lira – as of May 30, the price of 1 US Dollar was 20.40 Lira, high inflation, high cost of living, large domestic and foreign debt, etc.);
- It is yet to be seen with which foreign actors (the West, Russia, or Arab countries) Ankara will start cooperating with in order to overcome those economic difficulties, that is, whose influence will increase on the country and its politics;
- It is economic issues that will largely determine the outcome of the Turkish local elections scheduled for 10 months from now;
- The Turkish opposition will have to study and analyze the reasons for their defeat. Among others, we might see both structural (for example, whether coalition unity will be maintained) and personal changes (for example, there has already been talk about the possibility of replacing the leader of the “People’s Republican Party” Kemal Kilicdaroglu with Ekrem Imamogluti);
- Changes in relations with Georgia are less expected. The two countries are traditionally connected by close partnership and good-neighborly relations in all fields, and these relations will continue to develop in a similar vein in the future.
Turkey is a country mainly populated by Sunnis, and this topic is sensitive for voters of conservative orientation (who are in the majority).