In Depth

Turkish general election: why Sunday’s vote is ‘most important ever’

President Erdogan’s once-certain win now hangs in the balance amid economic downturn

The citizens of Turkey will head to the polls this Sunday to choose their president and parliament in what is likely to be one of the most consequential elections in the country’s history.

Having endured five general elections in the past 11 years, along with a multitude of contentious referendums, the people of Turkey are no strangers to exercising their democratic rights. However, this year’s general election looks set to be one that may permanently shape the future of the Turkish state.

Why is this election so significant?

The eyes of the world are upon what The Independent calls “the most important election in the country’s history”.

The significance of this election dates back to April 2017, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held a referendum on a controversial constitutional change - one that would see the office of prime minister abolished and the existing parliamentary system of government replaced with a presidential system.

Erdogan won the vote with a narrow margin, turning the largely ceremonial role of president into one of all-encompassing executive power. It is this change that effectively makes the victor of Sunday’s election “a dictator in all but name”, The Guardian reports.

Although the next general election was originally scheduled for November 2019, in April Erdogan announced that the vote would be brought forward by almost 18 months, a move seen as an attempt to consolidate his already considerable power.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, given that “he has won every vote in his 15 years in power”, the BBC says. However, with Turkey suffering an economic slump, and with unexpectedly strong resistance to the Erdogan regime, the plan may backfire, suggests CNN.

Is there serious opposition?

After an unbroken path to victory at every past election he has contested, Erdogan is now facing “his toughest political challenge yet”, CNN says.

“For the first time in more than a decade, [voters] have an array of strong candidates to choose from”, while the incumbent’s popularity has waned in recent months following a harsh economic slump and a growing sense of unrest over what some see as his creeping authoritarianism, the news site continues.

An April report by Amnesty International - whose Turkish chairman, Taner Kılıc, has been in prison for more than a year - described a “suffocating climate of fear” in the country, claiming the government had “deliberately and methodically set about dismantling civil society and had nearly destroyed Turkey’s legal system in its pursuit of dissidents”.

As a result, the opposition parties have united against Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP), says Time magazine. “The anti-Erdogan camp used to be composed of disparate groups, including Turkish and Kurdish nationalists, seculars and even some Islamists, and Erdogan’s luck was that the gap between those opposition factions was often wider than the gap separating them from Erdogan,” the magazine explains. That is no longer the case.

The leftist-secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) in particular has made major waves in recent months, with its leader Muharrem Ince drawing “what looked like the largest crowd in the elections period yet”, albeit in the famously liberal coastal city of Izmir, CNN reports.

But who will win?

“Erdogan is hoping to win outright,” says the BBC, and realistically, the chances of a victory for Ince or any other party in the anti-Erdogan bloc remain slim.

However, the electoral system of Turkey may mean the contest goes to the wire. If no candidate secures 50% of the vote, there will be a run-off vote, on 8 July, between the top two candidates.

At present, Erdogan leads opinion polls by 23.6 points. But Ince, in second place, is 17.7 points ahead of the third-placed candidate, meaning he may be able to deprive Erdogan of a majority and push him to a second vote.

“While he’s likely to win the run-off, the AKP might not win a majority in parliament,” says Washington DC-based think tank the Brookings Institution.

“Such an outcome could theoretically offer Turkish democracy a second chance, with a humbled and diminished Erdogan learning to compromise in a political context of cohabitation with the parliamentary opposition.”

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