Chronicle of the Middle East and North Africa

Turkey’s 2023 Presidential Election | Explainer

Turkey's 2023 presidential election is shaping up to be a historic contest.

Turkey Elections
Turkish citizens living abroad cast their votes during the presidential and the 28th term parliamentary elections at the Embassy of Turkiye in Bangkok, Thailand on May 06, 2023. Matt Hunt / Anadolu Agency via AFP

Kawthar Metwalli

On the 14th of May, Turkish voters will head to the polls to decide the fate of their country. The upcoming election is taking place against the backdrop of widespread unrest, corruption and dissatisfaction, primarily rooted in the far-reaching economic crisis and democratic erosion. The election is closely monitored internationally, as its results will shape Turkey’s future domestically and internationally.

Some polls suggest that the race is so close that it could result in a change of power after more than two decades. However, many people are sceptical of the polls and believe that Erdoğan’s loyal supporters will not abandon him.

Turkey Elections - Erdogan
Turkish President and Leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech as he attends an electoral rally organized by his party in Kayseri, Turkiye on May 06, 2023. Sercan Kucuksahin / Anadolu Agency via AFP

Current President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), has been in power since his appointment as prime minister in 2002. He is now seeking a third term in office in the upcoming election.

During the early years of his administration, Turkey enjoyed a period of economic growth, coupled with a rise in nationalistic and anti-Western stances. This was regarded by a significant sector of the population as a source of stability. Consequently, Erdoğan has consolidated a foundation of loyal supporters that could help him win re-election, despite increasing criticism of wide corruption, staggering inflation, and rising authoritarianism.

If Erdoğan is re-elected, he will likely continue to implement the AK Party’s policies, which are rooted in political Islam and ultra-nationalism.

Turkey Elections - Kemel
Leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the joint presidential candidate of the Nation Alliance, Kemal Kilicdaroglu attends an electoral rally in Erzincan, Turkiye on May 06, 2023. Kemal Ozdemir / Anadolu Agency via AFP

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant and leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Turkey’s primary secular opposition party, is regarded as Erdogan’s biggest competition. Kilicdaroglu is running as the unity candidate of the Nation’s Alliance, a politically diverse coalition united against Erdogan, otherwise known as the Table of Six.

Additionally, he has the explicit backing of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), Turkey’s second-largest opposition party, which significantly boosts his chances. Kilicdaroglu’s agenda mainly entails the removal of Erdogan from power, restoration of a parliamentary government, rekindling ties with the West, and fixing Turkey’s battered economy.

Turkey Election
Chairman of Homeland (Memleket) Party and presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince makes a speech as part of an election campaign ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections in Umraniye district of Istanbul, Turkiye on April 30, 2023. Arife Karakum / Anadolu Agency via AFP

The third candidate taking part in the electoral race is Muharrem Ince, a former member of the CHP and current founder/leader of the Homeland Party. Ince presents himself as a third alternative for those who are dissatisfied with both Erdogan and the Nation’s Alliance.

Despite his promises to bring about change, Ince has been criticised for splitting the opposition vote, fearing his refusal to join the Nation Alliance could help Erdogan win another term in office.

Sinan Ogan, Turkish academician and presidential candidate of the ATA (Ataturk) nationalist alliance speaks to the press after a meeting with the leader of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party, CHP, and a presidential candidate, in Ankara, on April 12, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

The fourth candidate is Sinan Ogan, a former member of the Nationalist Movement Party who is now running as an independent politician. Ogan’s agenda revolves within a nationalist and populist framework.

While less popular than the other candidates, he is backed by the ATA alliance, which consists of four parties. Ogan’s campaign promises to improve the economy and protect Turkey’s national interests.

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