Looking for the perfect opponent
The "National Alliance" of six political parties has been in heated debate for several months trying to find a candidate who can end the 20-year rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party. In early March, the opposition bloc was even on the verge of collapse. One of the participants of the "Table of Six", the head of the "Good Party" Meral Aksener opposed the candidate, who was supported by other participants - the head of the Republican People's Party (CHP) Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Aksener insisted on his more popular party members - the mayor of Istanbul, Ekreme Imamoglu, or the head of Ankara, Mansour Yavash. However, other participants felt that it was too risky to nominate mayors: if they lose, they will lose their positions, which means that the opposition will lose control over the largest cities.
On March 3, Aksener announced that she was leaving the coalition, finally shattering the hopes of opposition supporters for victory. “The opposition platform has ceased to reflect the will of the people,” said the head of the Good Party. However, already on March 6, the oppositionists were able to agree. Aksener agreed with the candidacy of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. But on the condition that if he wins, the leaders of the other five opposition parties will become vice presidents.
The Turkish opposition includes six parties: conservative nationalists - the Good Party (İyi Parti), Islamists - the Party of Happiness (Saadet), Erdogan's former allies (Deva and Gelecek parties), the Democratic Party and the country's leading opposition party - the Republican People's Party (RNP), Atatürk's party. Despite serious disagreements on many issues, the desire to remove Erdogan and return Turkey to a parliamentary form of government allowed them to negotiate, explains oriental Turkologist, political scientist Ruslan Suleymanov.
The opposition last united in an attempt to overthrow Erdogan's allies in the 2019 municipal elections. Then the alliance regained control over the two main cities of Turkey: Ankara and Istanbul were headed by Mansur Yavash and Ekrem Imamoglu. These elections have shaken faith in the invincibility of Erdogan and his party.
Turkish Gandhi - Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
Erdogan's main opponent is 74 years old. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has held the post of head of the Republican People's Party since 2010, and 1246 out of 1250 delegates supported him in the vote - a record figure in the history of the party. For his calm manner of speaking and outward resemblance, he was nicknamed the Turkish Gandhi. But they could also call Turkish Navalny - for anti-corruption investigations. In 2008, after a debate with Kılıçdaroglu, two of Erdoğan's deputies in the AKP, Mehmet Ferat and Shaban Dishli, left their positions, accused of corruption by the head of the CHP. Now Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu wants to remove Erdoğan. “Today we are very close to overthrowing the tyrant from the throne,” the CHP leader said in early March.
Kemal Kılıçdaroglu accuses Erdogan of political persecution and "witch hunt". In 2017, Kılıçdaroğlu organized the Justice March in support of nearly 500,000 detainees across the country. The procession from Ankara to Istanbul gathered about 2 million participants. The formal reason for the rally was the political massacre of journalist and MP Enis Berberoglu, who was sentenced to 25 years in prison for publishing a video of the transfer of weapons to Syrian rebels by representatives of Turkish intelligence services. This disproved Erdogan's claims that Ankara is not involved in the Syrian conflict.
“Kylychdaroglu definitely cannot be called a “cosmetic” candidate,” notes political analyst Ruslan Suleymanov. “Of course, he is inferior in the rating to the younger and more popular mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, but due to the fact that he unites the protest electorate around him, he has a chance to defeat Erdogan.”
According to the latest poll , Kilicdaroglu was supported by 56.8% of respondents, while Erdogan was supported by 43.2% of respondents. Other studies show similar numbers. But to win, the CHP leader may need the backing of the third-largest force in parliament, the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), which received almost 12% of the vote in the last election and occupies 67 seats in parliament. She is not part of the opposition bloc. The party defends the rights of national minorities, mainly the Kurds vote for it, their position will be decisive in these elections, says political scientist, expert on Turkey Aurelien Denisot. “About a third of the Kurdish population traditionally supports Erdogan as the leader of the conservative Sunnis,” Deniso explained. "The vote of the remaining two-thirds, who normally vote for the HDP, is less certain."
The position of the Kurds can become decisive in the elections
HDP co-chairman Pervin Buldan announced that the party would not run its own candidate in the presidential elections. This means that some of the Kurdish votes may go to the opposition. Kılıçdaroglu himself called for the release of one of the leaders of the Kurds, Selahattin Demirtaş, who has been in prison since 2016 on charges of having links with the PKK. Demirtas, in turn, spoke in support of Kılıçdaroğlu.
Kemalist against neo-Ottomanism supporter
If Kemal Kılıçdaroglu wins, Turkey can return to the foundations of its statehood, proclaimed by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, revered as the father of the Turkish nation. Kılıçdaroğlu presented his main trump card to the voters - the deliverance of Turkey from authoritarian rule. “We, the leaders of the political parties that are part of the national alliance, have agreed on a roadmap for the transition to a strengthened parliamentary system!” - said the head of the RNP.
The Kılıçdaroğlu party believes that under Erdogan, Turkey has moved away from the ideas of Kemalism (the ideology of Turkish national modernization put forward by Ataturk). This doctrine is based on six main principles - "six arrows". The first principle envisages the state as a republic with power elected and accountable to the people - in contrast to the absolute monarchy, which was the Ottoman Empire. The second principle is nationalism, but Atatürk's understanding of it was based on the ideas of a community of citizens within the borders of the Turkish Republic, and not on ethnic or religious principles of uniting all Turks, including those outside the country. Other principles include the secular nature of the state and its separation from Islam, the course to combat the remnants of traditional society, reliance on progress and enlightenment.
At the same time, Erdogan came to power with the ideas of reviving the culture and traditions of the Ottoman Empire within the framework of modern Turkey. They even tried to ban his party in 2002 and 2008 for departing from the principle of separation of religion and state. Now the Kemalists, not without reason, fear that in the event of a victory, Erdogan will continue to destroy democratic institutions. So, in 2017, the AKP allowed Erdogan to amend the Constitution, thereby strengthening the power of the president and changing the form of government from a parliamentary republic to a presidential one. According to the Venice Commission, the principle of separation of powers has ceased to work in Turkey, the system of checks and balances has disappeared.
“Many supporters of Kılıçdaroğlu consider the AKP’s policy, their flirting with traditional values, a return to the Middle Ages, proclaiming Islamic law as the main one,” says political scientist Ceylan Ozgul, a specialist in the Middle East.
Erdogan will fight to the last
The rating of the Turkish President fluctuated greatly during the last term. The historical anti-record fell on December 2022: only 38.6% of respondents were ready to support it. “According to numerous polls, up to 60% of Turks today unequivocally say that they will not vote for Erdogan,” says Ruslan Suleymanov. According to him, the Turkish president will fight to the last and use all the cards he has up his sleeve, from the introduction of martial law to the use of administrative resources in the elections.
At the same time, it will be difficult to falsify the results of the vote, says the head of the German Marshall Fund Ozgur Unlyukhisarcykly:
"Elections in Turkey are not fair, but they are real and competitive, and the opposition has a real chance of winning."
The Turkish president maintains a loyal base and deep influence over the media and government institutions. Part of the doubting audience will vote for him, the expert believes. According to him, Erdogan will play on the fear and uncertainty of the voters: “He will say: ‘If you vote for me, you know who will run the country. If you vote for them, you don't know what will happen."
Erdogan will play on the fear and uncertainty of voters
Erdogan, like Vladimir Putin, loves history and beautiful dates. Initially, the elections were supposed to be held in June, but the Turkish president postponed them to the landmark date of May 14. On this day in 1950, for the first time since the founding of the Republic of Turkey, Atatürk's supporters lost in elections to the Islamists from the Democratic Party. And now, 70 years later, Erdogan wants to defeat the Kemalists from the RPP in the elections on this very date. “It is also symbolic that Turkey will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the republic on October 29 this year,” notes Ruslan Suleymanov. “Erdogan will try to do everything to meet this day at the head of the country.”
However, Erdogan approaches the elections without significant domestic political successes. Inflation in 2022 was more than 64% in annual terms, and in 2021 it reached 85% in general, this is a record since 1998. According to the opposition, the short-sighted policy of the president and his entourage led to this. Erdogan demanded to lower the rate, contrary to the recommendations of economists to raise it in order to contain price increases. He appointed loyal officials to the post of head of the Central Bank and fired those who tried to pursue an independent policy.
Tremors by reputation
A serious blow to the reputation of the President of Turkey dealt an earthquake, which killed more than 60 thousand people and 2.7 million people lost their homes. It is symbolic that Erdogan came to power on a wave of popular dissatisfaction with the government, which in 1999 could not cope with the consequences of the earthquake, as well as with the economic crisis that followed in 2001.
Kılıçdaroğlu, racing with Erdogan, travels to the regions affected by the earthquake. Erdogan is trying to act as the savior of the nation and calls on people to rally around a common grief, notes Ruslan Suleymanov. But his traditional socially oriented rhetoric (to pay compensation, increase wages and build new houses) sounds unconvincing. The opposition already notes that it was the mistakes of Erdogan's party that led to a monstrous number of victims, says Ruslan Suleymanov:
“Kılıçdaroğlu and his team remind Erdogan that under his Justice and Development Party, a construction amnesty was announced in the country 8 times, this is an opportunity to pay a fee for self-construction. And more than half of the buildings in the ten most affected provinces were built after 2001, that is, under the AKP.”
Türkiye - Ukraine - Russia
Erdogan is trying to compensate for the lack of success within the country through achievements in foreign policy. First of all, thanks to the growing influence of Turkey against the backdrop of the energy crisis and the war in Ukraine. Erdogan skillfully used the situation in which the country found itself after the break in relations between the West and Russia. And he made Turkey an indispensable link in the processes on which world security depends.
In July, with the participation of Turkey, a grain deal was concluded, which ensured the export of agricultural products from Ukraine. In November, it was extended - again, not without Ankara. Turkish Bayraktar UAVs played an important role in the first months of hostilities: the whole world saw how the Ukrainian military fought off the Russian offensive with the help of Turkish weapons. After the Nord Stream explosions, the Russian authorities started talking about Turkey's role as a gas hub. Ankara did not join the sanctions against Moscow. But it did not recognize the occupied territories of Ukraine as Russian.
“If the opposition, after the victory, does not cut off the shoulder and do everything the other way around, as opposed to Erdogan’s previous policy, I believe that Ankara will try to continue playing the role of a key mediator between Moscow and Kiev,” Suleymanov says.
If the opposition wins, the policy towards Kyiv is unlikely to change, because the territorial integrity of Ukraine is an unshakable concept for the entire Turkish political class, Suleymanov believes. Since 2014, Ankara has consistently condemned Russia for the annexation of Crimea, and since February 24 last year, for a full-scale military invasion of Ukraine.
Kılıçdaroğlu's victory will most likely cool relations between Moscow and Ankara, and improve relations with the European Union. “There will be no such chemistry as between Putin and Erdogan,” Suleymanov believes. The expert believes that the opposition does not consider relations with Russia as a fundamental issue at all:
“We cannot say anything specific about Kılıçdaroğlu's position on Russia. The head of the RPP, like the entire opposition coalition, pays negligible attention to relations with Moscow. On the other hand, the Kremlin itself is betting on Erdogan and does not show any interest in the Turkish opposition.”
However, even if Erdogan wins, relations with Russia may deteriorate. The President needs funds to cover the huge damage from the earthquake. The UN has valued it at more than $100 billion. Erdogan will have to turn to the West, as crisis-ridden Russia has little ability to help.
Turkish-Russian projects after the elections
The opposition and the AKP have different views on joint projects and forms of cooperation with Russia. But it is not worth waiting for their frosts, Ruslan Suleymanov believes. At the same time, the conditions can be revised in favor of Ankara. For example, this may happen with the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant. “Turkey has become dependent on Russia for its energy supply,” Kılıçdaroğlu said in August. “If you become dependent on energy policy, you will not be able to follow an independent economic policy!”
According to the head of the CHP, Erdogan is using Akkuyu to enrich the companies associated with it and as a political asset. Kılıçdaroğlu believes that the president is misleading citizens by calling a useful project that is economically unprofitable and politically dangerous for sovereignty. The contract obliges Turkey until 2040 to buy electricity produced by Akkuyu at a high price of $12.35 per kWh.
Erdogan uses Akkuyu to enrich companies associated with it and as a political asset
The opposition is not satisfied with the fact that Rosatom does not share nuclear technologies. “There are sites at nuclear power plants where Turkish engineers, technicians and workers are not taken,” Kilicdaroglu said. It was Erdogan's party that rejected the opposition's proposal to introduce a clause on the transfer of nuclear technologies into the agreement with Russia.
Another issue of critical importance for Russia is the construction of a gas hub in Turkey. For Moscow, this is an opportunity to supply its fuel around the world in circumvention of sanctions. Russian gas purchased by Ankara and mixed, for example, with Azerbaijani gas, de jure will cease to be Russian. This will allow Gazprom to avoid a significant reduction in production and bring profit. But Ankara is not going to invest in the distribution site. Russia was offered to finance the project itself, as was the case with Akkuyu. “If the Russian Federation has money, please start building a hub. Everything depends on investments,” said Chagry Erhan, a member of the Security Council under the Turkish President.
For Kılıçdaroğlu, the gas hub could become an important card in negotiations with Russia on Syria, Turkish political analyst Ceylan Ozgül said. “If Kılıçdaroğlu wins the elections, which is very likely, then he will have to send Syrian refugees back to Syria, this is the only way for Turkey to improve the economic situation,” Ozgul believes. To do this, he will have to negotiate with Putin on Syria. The construction of the hub will help create an ‘alternative economy’ for Syrians in Syria, and everyone will benefit from this: Moscow, Ankara and Damascus.”
In addition, Turkey has become a food hub for the delivery of goods from Europe, India, Africa and Latin America to Russia. Cargo transportation between the two countries grew by almost five times in 2022. Under these conditions, the blocking of transit makes Moscow extremely vulnerable. The candidate who won the election can afford to dictate the terms of cooperation to Moscow, says Pavel Krivosheev, an expert at the Carnegie Center.
Food hub closure makes Moscow extremely vulnerable
Some experts considered that Ankara has already shown its readiness to meet the European Union halfway and limit transit to Russia. In early March, the Turkish authorities completely stopped the crossing of all goods through their territory, including those under sanctions. The customs authorities rejected transit declarations, citing a government order. According to Reuters, Turkish authorities have compiled a list of sanctioned goods banned from transit to Russia since March 1. However, two weeks later, transit resumed. По странному совпадению, это произошло в тот же день , когда российский МИД согласился продлить зерновую сделку. Неудивительно, что многие увязали эти два события и назвали остановку транзита попыткой давления на Путина с целью заставить его продлить соглашение, которое российский МИД неоднократно критиковал.
«Турция не будет возить в Россию подсанкционные товары, кроме тех, которые ей кажутся безвредными. Кроме того, я не вижу, чтобы предстоящие выборы в Турции изменили эту позицию», — считает Озгюль. Но даже если ввоз не будет полностью закрыт, то санкционные товары станут дороже для россиян: груз придется растаможивать, платить все необходимые налоги и сборы, оформлять как турецкий и только потом перевозить в Россию. А у нового президента, кто бы им ни стал, появится еще одно прекрасное средство манипулировать Москвой.