Politico: The odds in Turkey’s election are “little more than a coin toss”

Politico: The odds in Turkey’s election are “little more than a coin toss”
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Both the opposition and the ruling party in Turkey sense that a change is coming. However, the potential for election manipulation, the persistence of Erdogan-loyalists, and unpredictable elements in the earthquake region complicate predictions.

Elcin Poyrazlar penned a new analysis in POLITICO regarding President Erdogan’s chances of victory over opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the upcoming May 14 elections in Turkey. Speaking to senior officials and government insiders regarding Erdogan’s perspective on the election and his plans for the future, Poyrazlar writes that many in the government sense an end to the strongman’s two decades of rule over the country.

The Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition in Turkey, has claimed that civil servants are preparing for a post-Erdogan government and that there is a “feverish anticipation of change in parliament and party headquarters.” Poyrazlar, alongside other Turkey experts, credits the February earthquakes and the consequent internal displacement and extensive damage to infrastructure which compounded existing problems of inflation and a trade deficit, for the tide turning against Erdogan.

An opposition victory would be welcomed by the West which is frustrated by “Islamist populist” Erdogan’s “confrontational statesmanship,” his consistent undermining of NATO interests, and his relationship with Russia that allows the Kremlin to evade sanctions. Despite these factors, it may be too soon to consider the election won.

Poyrazlar writes that recent polls, which may be biased, show that the opposition has a slight lead over Erdogan. On the other hand, senior members of his administration claim, “It’s 50-50.” In any case, the opposition’s campaign is likely to be an uphill battle.

The opposition alliance must contend with the unresolved matter of how votes will be counted in the earthquake zone, which is still subject to Erdogan’s rule through a state of emergency. According to Poyrazlar, this “poses a huge logistical challenge and a possible threat to a fair and transparent contest.” Thousands have evacuated the region while others remain homeless. Poyrazlar grimly notes, “Those vagaries, over who is where — and where they are voting — represent a potential advantage for the president.”

Moreover, previous AKP campaigns have been rife with allegations of electoral fraud. When his party had been defeated in Istanbul’s mayoral vote, Erdogan’s insistence on a victory for the AKP had caused the election to go to a revote. The same may be the case in May, as opponents speculate “that Erdogan’s government could manipulate around 5 percent of the vote, particularly in such confused circumstances.”

Even in an election that is ideally free and fair, the weight of the AKP’s voter base is not negligible. AKP loyalists admire Erdogan’s “strongman style of leadership,” believe he will use the state’s resources to serve the people, and have faith in his commitment to rapid reconstruction in the earthquake zone. Poyrazlar’s source who is close to Erdogan notably said, “Turks love stability and strong management. There is a feeling that this can only be done by Erdogan. And he is the only one that can build homes within a year.”

If the opposition loses the elections which have been characterized as the last chance to “salvage Turkish democracy,” Erdogan’s focus in the upcoming term will be reconstruction — even as fundamental freedoms continue to be stifled.

On the other hand, the West, though concerned with the collapse of democratic norms in a strategic ally, is most interested in Turkey’s foreign policy. Regardless of the outcome in May, Turkey would still be a crucial partner in international affairs. Today, Sweden is still awaiting approval to join NATO and Turkey is acting as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine in the war.

Former minister and current AKP head of the Turkish parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee Akif Cagatay Kilic tells Poyrazlar that “The fact that today our opinion is asked about the Middle East, the Aegean, the Eastern Mediterranean and Russia shows that Turkey is at the center.”

Poyrazlar ends on the following note: “The fight is fraught, the odds perhaps little more than a coin toss. And even though Erdogan’s political skills have frayed over two decades in power, the AKP machine is keeping faith.”