Orhan Kemal Cengiz
Can Erdogan return after an election defeat?
There is a term that is specifically designed to describe some regimes like the one that exists in Turkey: “Competitive authoritarianism.” In these regimes, elections take place and there is a kind of competition between different actors, but the regime is authoritarian. Governments of these regimes use lots of unfair advantages. They control the media and the judiciary; they suffocate freedom of expression and they use all state facilities to their advantage. However, people still have the hope that the regime can be changed in a peaceful manner thanks to elections.
We are coming closer to an election with which the Turkish people can indeed change the government despite the huge advantages the regime has and the tremendous pressure it imposes on dissent. Recently introduced disinformation law is a clear indication that all these authoritarian tendencies will deepen in the coming days.
However, I would like to pose a question in this article whether a defeat for Erdogan means that he will leave the Turkish political scene for good or not. Some strongly believe that if Erdogan loses the upcoming election, not only will he lose all his political power and appeal but also his party, AK Party, will be torn apart. Proponents of this idea, give examples from Turkish political history, where huge political parties, like the Justice Party (AP) or the Motherland Party, turned into small entities after they, alongside their leaders, lost elections. So, some believe the AK Party will end up like them, turned into a tiny political party that lost all its grassroots and support.
However, some other political observers believe that after one defeat, the AK Party and Erdogan will not vanish from the political arena. To the contrary, Erdogan will provide fierce opposition against the newly formed government. They believe that the AK Party is now a well-established political party, whose supporters will not be alienated from it just because of a one-time election defeat. There is a strong bond between the AK Party and its grassroots.
What I observe is that proponents of these opposing theories simply disregard a different variety of factors.
I think that these variations are as follows:
If the opposition defeats Erdogan, how big a defeat would this be? If the opposition wins with a small margin of votes (I believe if there will be a victory it will likely be in this manner) this will not give a fatal blow to Erdogan's political career. His supporters will believe that he is going to make a come-back and this belief will give him a serious amount of power.
Second element: Will the newly established government and newly elected president manage to implement swift judicial reforms, thus leading to corruption investigations that will seriously damage the AK Party and its legacy? This is easier said than done. As I tried to explain in my previous articles, the judiciary is full of proponents of this regime. A comprehensive clean-up of the judiciary requires serious strategy and preparation, which, I doubt the opposition has.
If favorable conditions appear for Erdogan, namely the opposition wins the election by a small margin, followed by the opposition failing to undertake a serious clean-up in order to get rid of proponents of this regime within the judiciary, I believe Erdoğan would have a very strong chance of returning.
That is because, even if he loses, he will drop a time bomb that will explode after the elections. And the name of this bomb is hyperinflation. I think the government is aware of what is going to happen after the elections. They must be thinking: “If we win, we can overcome the problem until the next election and if we lose, we will leave a total wreckage to the new government that will sink them soon.”
In conclusion, I believe, a simple defeat does not mean the end of the road for Erdogan and the AK Party. If there are other favorable conditions, they may make a come-back even if they lose power in the next elections.