The Another

    A crucial election for Turkey and beyond



    A banner depicting outgoing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on April 23, 2023.

    For the first time in his long political career, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not the front-runner in the presidential election scheduled for Sunday, May 14, in Turkey. At the helm of the country for the past 20 years, the champion of Turkish political Islam is seeking a third term, hoping to remain in office until 2028. A horizon far enough away to allow him to reshape the country as he pleases. His wish is to build the “Second Republic,” which he wants to be more religious, more autocratic, more distant from the West than the one founded by Mustafa Kemal, known as “Atatürk,” a hundred years ago.

    But this ambition may elude him. Polls give a slight lead to his rival, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the candidate of a united opposition, though neither he nor Erdogan is confidant of garnering more than 50% of the vote to be elected in the first round. The unexpected withdrawal from the race of Muharrem Ince, an outsider credited with 2% to 4% of voting intentions, could benefit the opposition.

    For the all-powerful “reis,” nothing is the same as before. His diatribes, his loquaciousness, his electoral largesse (he has just announced a second salary increase in a week for civil servants) are struggling to seduce voters. He does still enjoy a solid base, estimated at 30% or 40% of the electorate, but his hold has faded, largely because of the poor state of the economy, especially in terms of inflation (44% in April, over one year) , which is hitting the population hard.

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    Depreciation of the Turkish lira

    Erdogan is the main person responsible for this. He is the one who, since his re-election with expanded prerogatives in 2018, decides on the monetary policy for Turkey, an industrial country of 85 million inhabitants, a logistics hub and an energy crossroads. As a self-respecting autocrat, Erdogan has systematically trampled on institutions, most notably the central bank, dismissing three governors in two years. He has imposed a policy of lowering interest rates to curb inflation, which has had the opposite effect and has also caused the depreciation of the Turkish lira.

    Kiliçdaroglu promises to restore the independence of the financial institution and to reduce the inflation rate to single digits. The economy must be put back on track, but so must democracy. Thousands of prisoners and exiles are hoping for an amnesty. Kiliçdaroglu has pledged to free the Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas and the business leader Osman Kavala, who were both unfairly sentenced by a justice system that was under orders.

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    More broadly, the opposition alliance aims to put an end to the hyper-presidential system established by Erdogan, particularly his discretionary power to rule by decree from his palace of more than 1,000 rooms on the outskirts of Ankara. The opposition has vowed to turn this oversized building into a “museum of waste.”

    If Erdogan were to lose the election, the population would gain in terms of both freedom and prosperity, provided the new government focuses on cleaning up the economy. After 20 years of undivided power, the welcome changeover would have consequences far beyond Turkey’s borders, marking a new beginning in relations with the European Union and the United States. It would also send a positive message to the leaders of democracies that their hard-line populist counterparts can be defeated at the ballot box.

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    The world

    Translation of an original article published in English on; the publisher may only be liable for the French version.

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