VSconsidered the most important in its contemporary history, Turkey’s May 14 presidential and parliamentary elections were effectively regarded as a double referendum. Voters turned out in droves to say a “yes but” to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled for two decades. They also approved the continuation of the hyper-presidential and autocratic regime – “Erdoganism” – that the incumbent president has been gradually implementing since 2014. His opponent – a candidate who wants to end autocracy through power-sharing and who advocates a return to the rule of law and a parliamentary system – received significant but insufficient electoral support.
The results of these elections are quite clear. Even if not re-elected in the first round, Erdogan is doing better than his rival. With 49.5% of the votes, against 44.9% to Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, he is in a favorable position for the second round. On the other hand, the People’s Alliance, the coalition bringing together Erdogan’s AKP with far-right nationalist or religious parties, has the parliamentary majority.
Even though Turkey is divided almost equally between Erdogan’s supporters and those who want him gone, the May 14 results show that the country’s political center of gravity has shifted even further to the nationalist far right. The MHP (Nationalist Action Party), credited in opinion polls with 6% to 7% of the vote, obtained more than 10% in the parliamentary elections. With the arrival on the political scene of the ultra-religious YRP party, established by the son of Erbakan – founder of the party of political Islam in Turkey – these two parties are compensating for the decline of the AKP, credited with 35% of the votes in the parliamentary elections.
A severe economic crisis
The main question today is why and how Erdogan has managed to keep the confidence of half of the electorate, despite a serious economic crisis marked by very high inflation, a staggering depreciation of the Turkish lira, increasing poverty and inequality. But also in spite of wear and tear on power, corruption that has become a system of government and, finally, an earthquake that revealed the carelessness and nepotism of the autocratic system. Erdogan’s alliance with the far-right MHP party since 2016 and the lashing of small far-right Islamo-nationalist parties into this alliance on the eve of the elections only partly explains this resilience.
Erdogan controls the media, where his ratings have far exceeded those of any of his competitors. Using all the means of the party-state, he has run a defensive campaign, but with a massive budgetary commitment that would make the populist leaders of other countries jealous. Indeed, managed by the AKP’s clientelist networks, the serious economic crisis does not seem to have shaken the confidence of Erdogan’s voters.
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