(New York, N.Y.) — Following Turkey’s highly-anticipated presidential election on May 14, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu are headed to a runoff after both candidates failed to secure a majority of the vote. The close contest follows two consecutive elections in which Erdogan easily secured his victory, indicating that growing disapproval of Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the coalescence of a united opposition against him has weakened the Turkish president’s appeal among the country’s electorate.
Despite public opinion previously favoring Kılıçdaroğlu, Erdoğan edged out his opposition, receiving 49.4 percent of the national vote to Kılıçdaroğlu’s 45 percent. Observers have pointed to several unaddressed irregularities, not least of which was the fact that Erdoğan’s candidacy for a third term was unconstitutional. Additionally, Erdoğan expelled, arrested, and even jailed international observers in the country invited by the leading Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP)—a key member of the opposition coalition—to monitor election day activities, further compromising free and fair elections.
The prospect of five more years under AKP control presents grave concerns for the Turkish people. Opposition voters expressed frustrations surrounding Erdoğan’s failure to respond after February’s earthquake, his authoritarian leadership tactics threatening Turkish democracy, and erosion of freedom under the AKP. Furthermore, “Erdoğanism,” the now-dominant ideology of Turkey’s ruling party, features tactics that stifle dissent and control the media, bringing most outlets under government control. Erdoğan has also targeted secular “white Turks,” claiming the Muslim “black Turks” are the genuine owners of Turkey, which he believes must return to its former Ottoman-era glory. AKP leaders have also demonstrated a tendency to oppress vulnerable communities, including women and LGBT Turks.
However, Erdoğan has bolstered his image by projecting a tough posture against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)—an internationally designated Foreign Terrorist Organization—which regularly deploys violence against those that threaten their goal of creating an independent Kurdish state. AKP supporters believe that if Kılıçdaroğlu were to take power, Turkey’s fight against the PKK would falter. The pro-government news outlet Daily Sabah has even highlighted several PKK leaders who voiced their support for Kılıçdaroğlu’s presidential campaign ahead of Sunday’s election.
To read the Counter Extremism Project (CEP)’s report on the PKK, please click here.
Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, presented himself as a moderate alternative to Erdoğan, gaining united support from the six opposition parties, known as “The Table of Six.” Kılıçdaroğlu has expressed a desire to repair Turkey’s relationship with the West, protect individual rights, and restore democratic checks and balances. The runoff election will take place on May 28 to determine whether Turkey will remain authoritarian for a third decade or enter a new era of relations with Europe and the West.
To read CEP’s report Extremism in Erdoğan’s AKP, please click here.