Turkey’s Historic Elections: Can Erdogan’s Rule be Unseated?
Today marks a significant day for Turkey as polls open for the fiercely fought presidential and parliamentary elections, potentially bringing an end to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s 20-year reign. Erdogan faces a formidable challenge amid economic challenges and criticism surrounding the handling of the devastating February 6 earthquake. Critics argue that lax building controls and a disorganized rescue effort exacerbated the impact of the disaster.
The main contender against Erdogan is Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who represents an election coalition of six opposition parties. This marks a crucial moment where Turkey’s fragmented opposition has united behind a single candidate.
In order to be elected, a candidate must secure over 50% of the vote on Sunday night. Otherwise, a run-off will be held on May 28, prolonging the electoral process.
At a polling station in Istanbul’s Beyogly district, voters expressed their hopes and aspirations. Korhan Futaci, 46, stated, “My vote is for freedom. My vote is for the future of our kids. I’m hopeful.” Yeliz Sahin, 46, who lost her brother and son in the earthquake, emphasized the need for change, saying, “It’s a historical moment that we’ve been waiting for for 20 years. This whole system needs to change.” First-time voter Eren Uzmele, 19, acknowledged the responsibility of the youth, stating, “The future of the country is in our hands. It’s in the hands of the youth.”
Kılıçdaroğlu, a mild-mannered 74-year-old former bureaucrat, has made promises to revive Turkey’s faltering economy and restore democratic institutions that have been compromised during Erdogan’s tenure characterized by a slide towards authoritarianism.
Meanwhile, Erdogan continues to campaign on stability, an independent foreign policy, and the strengthening of Turkey’s defense industry. He recently raised government workers’ wages by 45% and lowered the retirement age. However, his conservative, working-class support base has been eroded by the country’s economic woes, including a plummeting currency and rising prices.
In the aftermath of the February 6 earthquake, Erdogan faced intense political aftershocks. Critics accused his ruling Justice and Development (AK) party of overseeing a botched rescue effort and inadequate building controls during their two-decade rule. The government has since taken action against contractors, construction inspectors, and project managers who violated building regulations. However, some view this as mere scapegoating, and the government has admitted to “mistakes” made in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.
Recent developments have further bolstered Kılıçdaroğlu’s campaign, including the withdrawal of minor candidate Muharrem Ince. While Ince had low polling numbers, opposition figures feared that he could split the anti-Erdogan vote.
As Turkey holds elections every five years, more than 1.8 million voters living abroad have already cast their votes, and over 65 million eligible Turkish citizens are expected to participate. It is worth noting that at least 1 million voters in quake-stricken areas are projected to abstain from voting this year due to displacement and other challenges.
The outcome of these elections has the potential to reshape Turkey’s political landscape significantly. As the nation awaits the election results, all eyes are on the polls to see if Erdogan’s rule can be unseated.
By: Sofia Noah