by instituDE, 15 May 2023

Turkey's most critical election took place on Sunday

One of the most significant elections in the 100-year history of modern Turkey was held on May 14. Millions of Turkish voters went to the polls to elect the president and members of the parliament. The polls were open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. Political party leaders and senior figures voted in the legislative and presidential elections. All presidential candidates emphasized the importance of safeguarding the ballot boxes and urged voters to protect the ballot boxes.

According to Turkish legislation, the propaganda ban started across Turkey at 6 p.m. local time on May 13 and the reporting of election results was prohibited until nine o'clock on May 14. 

There were also claims of attacks, fraud, and attempts to prevent people from voting at polling stations on election day.

Erdogan and his rival Kilicdaroglu appeared to fail to win the election in the first round and be headed for a second round.

While over 90% of the ballot boxes had been counted as of late May 14, both parties declared to be ahead. The opposition claimed that the ruling party was raising objections against ballots in which the opposition was leading and delaying the election results.

Turkey's election commission bans Interior Ministry from collecting election results

The Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) forbid the Interior Ministry from collecting and recording the election results. The main opposition Republican People Party's (CHP) deputy chairman Muharrem Erkek on May 2 alleged that the Interior Ministry had established a "parallel election monitoring system" to the YSK. He also posted a video of the alternative platform on his Twitter account.

In a previous application to the YSK, the Interior Ministry requested information about the ballot boxes, including the names of the province, district, neighbourhood, polling places, ballot box number, and the total number of voters. But YSK rejected the request, saying that elections are under the jurisdiction of the election boards and the ministry has no electoral mandate.

Following YSK's response, the ministry decided to use the data supplied by the security staff in the polling places as an alternative. The YSK also prohibited the ministry from collecting and recording election results.

Presidential candidate Ince withdraws from presidential candidacy 

Three days before the crucial vote, Turkish presidential contender Muharrem Ince shocked his supporters by announcing on May 11 that he was withdrawing from the presidential election.

At a news conference in Ankara, Ince, the leader of the Homeland Party and a former member of the main opposition CHP, stated that he was withdrawing from the race for the sake of the country, citing a faked "character assassination" carried out online, but gave few details. Ince also said that Memleket Party would continue to run in the parliamentary elections and urged his supporters to vote for his party.

Kilicdaroglu accuses Russia of running a "deep fake" campaign ahead of elections

Allegations of foreign involvement dominated the last days of the election campaign. On May 11, Turkey's main opposition leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu warned Russia, blaming it for the dissemination of false information on social media before the elections on May 14. In his tweet, he made generic references to montages, plots, and deep fake content but did not specify what the material was about.

On May 12, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov strongly denied the accusations, saying the claims that Russia interfered in the upcoming Turkish presidential election were false and fabricated by liars.

On the other side, Turkish President Erdogan accused the opposition of collaborating with US President Joe Biden to topple him at his latest election rallies held in Istanbul on May 13.

Ruling party realizes only 35% of its last election promises

Dogruluk Payi, a fact-checking organization, recorded 164 promises the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) made in its 2018 election manifesto. According to the findings, the current government only fulfilled 58 of the 164 promises it made between 2018 and 2023.

The economic, transportation, infrastructure, employment, trade, tourist, and health sectors were included in the election manifesto.

100 of the 164 promises have not materialized, and five have been partially accomplished. According to the findings, the government's fulfilment rate of its pledges was roughly 35%.


Factoring companies charge record-high rates 

Three banking sector sources familiar with the matter told Reuters that rates on some Turkish factoring companies' commercial loans have surged to as high as 70% ahead of the elections on May 15, and maturities have shortened to about two weeks.

Credit markets are uneasy due to President Erdogan's unconventional stance. Sources said certain factoring companies were issuing loans with a 70% interest rate, up from 30% in February. 

Another banking source claimed businesses that cannot obtain bank loans borrow money from factoring companies at high-interest rates.

As election approaches, some Turkish banks restrict low-cost lending to customers

Banking sources said that certain Turkish banks are clamping back on a cheap source of cash for regular customers as the country prepares for tight national elections on May 14.

According to the sources, banks occasionally reduce the cash advance limits and maturities by practically half due to the uncertainty around the outcome of the elections and predictions of interest rate hikes.


First Turkey-Syria FM talks in Russia result in an agreement to work on terrorism and refugees

The foreign ministers of Turkey and Syria discussed the return of Syrian refugees and cooperation against terrorism at their meeting, held on May 10 in Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian also attended high-level talks.

Four top diplomats agreed to develop a roadmap to strengthen ties between Ankara and Damascus.

Turkey postpones 600 million dollars energy payment to Russia 

Turkey's natural gas debt of 600 million dollars to Russia has been postponed until 2024. Sources told Reuters on the condition of anonymity that the arrangement allows for a delay of up to $4 billion in Turkish energy payments to Russia until the next year.

Baghdad asks Ankara to resume oil exports as international oil companies reduce their operations 

Iraq's state oil firm has officially requested Turkey to restart its oil imports with the Kurdistan Region, according to Kurdish authorities on May 11. The KRG also stated that it had secured an agreement with the federal Iraqi government to resume regional oil exports.

Following a Paris-based International Chamber of Commerce ruling, Turkey ceased receiving oil exports from the Kurdistan Region in March. According to the ruling, Turkey owed Iraq $1.5 billion between 2014 and 2018 for receiving unauthorized exports.

Iraq's move comes as foreign oil corporations are reducing their operations in the autonomous region in northern Iraq due to the dispute.


"Offering Guarantees for a Smooth Transition in Turkey" by Mustafa Enes Esen, Institute for Diplomacy and Economy 

The first round of Turkey's highly anticipated elections is scheduled to take place on May 14th. Political analysts have focused their attention primarily on the prospects of the opposition alliance's candidate, Kilicdaroglu, emerging as the victor, a genuine possibility as indicated by several recent polls. Nonetheless, concerns are widespread about the consequences if Erdogan refuses to concede and the ensuing instability.

An idea that has been put forth to lessen the risks of a possible conflict involves extending concessions to Erdogan rather than punitive measures. The initial issue pertains to the quality of guarantees that the opposition can extend to Erdogan. One potential solution could be a constitutional amendment that offers immunity from prosecution to former presidents. Another proposal is that the army can act as a guarantor of the bargain.

In light of recent events in Turkey, it has become apparent that no guarantee, be it political, legal, or constitutional, can assuage the fear of loss and the potential consequences for Erdogan and his government. The country's history has shown that even with such guarantees in place, they may not be enough to prevent criminal investigations. President Erdogan is acutely aware of this reality, and it is unlikely that he or his associates would ever fully trust any such offer of impunity, no matter how ironclad the terms may be. So, instead of conceding defeat and retiring from politics, it seems that winning by any means is the only way forward in Erdogan's mind.

"World Leaders Who Didn't Recognize the Election Result and its Beyond" by Institute for Diplomacy and Economy

In the election to be held for the presidency, the possibility of preventing a possible Kilicdaroglu victory with various excuses should not be ignored. The fact that Anadolu Agency (AA) is the only institution authorized to follow and share the election results and its "performance" in the previous elections fuels the concerns that the results can be manipulated.

In addition, some statements made by high-level officials such as Minister of Defense Akar, Minister of Interior Soylu and President Erdogan in recent days contain signs that they will not accept defeat. Given the structure of the current government, it is clear that this threatening rhetoric should be taken seriously.

We witness that leaders who tend to be authoritarian or have managed to build their regimes during their long years in office, thus backing them with the army and police force, attempt to cheat the elections and manipulate the election results.

In the elections to be held on May 14 in Turkey, it is of vital importance that the opposition does not remain unresponsive to similar tendencies, the signs of which are already visible, and that it takes pre-emptive measures, both to prevent the country from slipping into more authoritarianism and to establish peace and social peace.

"China-Erdogan ties strained over Uyghurs despite economic boost" by Adam Lucente, Al-Monitor

Unsurprisingly, the Chinese government has not taken a stance on Turkey’s upcoming elections, but CGTN's false tweet on Erdogan's health fueled speculation that Beijing may be betting on his opponent. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs had to do damage control after the mishap.

With the election in its final days, Kilicdaroglu posted a video message to Twitter in which he endorsed creating a road and railway trade corridor to China, tweeting "neither West nor East, Turk's path." However, Kilicdaroglu said in the video that the corridor is dependent on China "stopping oppression in Turkestan." 

The video could be an indication that a Kilicdaroglu administration would make good relations with China dependent on improving the treatment of Uyghurs, though it also could just be campaign speak.

Kilicdaroglu referring to the region as Turkestan — the preferred name of many Uyghurs — in the video is also notable, as China's name for the region is Xinjiang.

"An Erdogan defeat would mark a victory for liberal democracy worldwide" by Ishaan Tharoor, The Washington Post

A report this year from the V-Dem Institute in Sweden charted a decade-long process of "autocratization" around the world, with the ranks of the world's electoral autocracies swelling to 56 countries in 2023. Erdogan's Turkey is a prominent, pioneering member of the pack.

This weekend, Turkey's story could dramatically change. Voters go to the ballot box for the first round in presidential and parliamentary elections with Erdogan and the AKP facing the toughest challenge yet to their rule. Opinion polls show Erdogan trailing Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the soft-spoken, 74-year-old presidential candidate backed by a united bloc of opposition parties.

The odds are still stacked against them, given Erdogan's domineering hold of the levers of power and influence over the media. But the appeal of the opposition has never been stronger in Erdogan's years in office.

A victory for the Turkish opposition and the defenestration of Erdogan's regime may have significant consequences. It could see a major shift in domestic economic policy.

But the euphoria of victory may be short-lived. An ungainly coalition may not hold, or prove dysfunctional. And then there will always be the possibility of Erdogan's return, via elections, as prime minister.

"Yes, Erdogan's Rule Might Actually End This Weekend" by Gonul Tol, Foreign Policy

What are Erdogan's options in a scenario where he loses the vote by a small margin? He might declare that the election was stolen and ask the Turkish bureaucracy to back him up. They are unlikely to back Erdogan after an election loss and risk legal repercussions under the new government.

A smarter option for Erdogan would be to accept the result and wait for the new government to fail. He still has a strong following he can mobilize for this purpose. 

Finally, one might expect Erdogan to fight tooth and nail to stay in power in order to avoid facing trial. But according to Turkish law, an indictment would have to be approved by two-thirds of parliament, a supermajority that would be very difficult to achieve—not least because the opposition includes former key Erdogan allies who might get sucked into any investigation, an outcome the opposition will likely want to avoid. The fact that a trial and potential jail time are unlikely makes it easier for Erdogan to accept defeat.

All of this is to say that not all autocracies are created equal; Turkey is neither Russia nor China. In some, elections matter more than in others, and strongmen are weaker than they seem.