A Multipolar World and The Middle East

Turkey is on the verge of the most critical elections in its history. The country is at risk of being surrendered to the absolute authority and dictatorial regime under the 20-year ruling of the Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi – AKP). Turkey’s democracy has suffered long years under the interference of the country’s elites, which paved the way for creating a fragile democracy, recording periodic military coups in the last decades of the 21st century. However, its delicate democracy has disappeared at the hands of an authoritarian leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Its consequences have been costly for Turkish people and harmful to the interests of the western world. Hypnotized by the government-controlled media, almost 40 percent of Turkey supporting the current regime is unaware of what Turkey has lost when it is far from the western values. The western world also has seen the loss of a reliable ally and a model country that combines Islam and democracy, which the world urgently needs today, where jihadist terrorism has been the most significant threat to the world security. This article will answer the questions on the forthcoming elections.

When will the elections take place?

The elections are scheduled for June 18, 2023. However, it will undoubtedly be held before its projected date. Otherwise, Erdogan cannot be a candidate under the terms of the current constitution amended in 2017. The political rivalry, known as “Table for Six” and composed of six political parties in the opposition, stipulates making the elections before April 6, 2023, and gives their support for two-thirds of the required majority, which can allow Erdogan’s candidacy. The second option for the election date has been under rigorous debate. Some believe that Erdogan is authorized to shut down the parliament and take the country to the elections, regardless of seeking parliament’s approval. Others are against this approach and believe that it is a violation of the constitution. However, it would not be wrong to say that no one can stand up against Erdogan’s decision if he shuts down the parliament. As a result, Turkey’s election will absolutely be held before its projected date, and Erdogan will specify the election date. 

Why is this election critical for President Erdogan and his entourage?

Some comments underline that Erdogan cannot let the elections be held if he knows he cannot win. Turkey has become an authoritarian regime after Erdogan’s AKP was elected twice in two consecutive elections in 2006 and 2010. The following period has recorded how the regime lacks transparency and accountability and has been involved in crime, corruption, and terrorism. The AKP regime is one of the most corrupt governments in Turkey’s history. A few pieces of its corrupt regime were unearthed on December 17 and 25, 2013 corruption scandals, implicating Erdogan, his family, and cabinet members. The December 17 investigation found the corrupt transactions of a money launderer, Reza Zarrab, who evaded US nuclear sanctions on Iran. Zarrab used Turkey’s banking system in return for millions of dollars of bribes offered to the ministers and bureaucrats.

On the other hand, the December 25 investigation deciphered a bribing system on government contracts run by President Erdogan and his son. Erdogan was able to shut down these two scandals in 2014, but Reza Zarrab, the chief suspect of the December 17 investigation, was arrested in the US in 2016 with the same accusations Turkish prosecutors made in 2013. The US trials convicted the chief suspect and opened another investigation on Turkey’s state bank, Halk Bank. The details of the current investigation carry some troubling messages for the Turkish government.

These two corruption scandals served as a turning point in Turkey’s politics, and the AKP government purged 40 thousand police officers and around 5 thousand judges and prosecutors from the government. The suspicious July 15 coup attempt in 2016 accelerated Turkey’s authoritarianism. Erdogan changed the constitution, swept power in the referendum, and replaced Turkey’s parliamentarian system with a Middle Eastern-type presidential system. The newly established system under Erdogan’s leadership has created a kleptocratic system, with politicians and bureaucrats involved in countless corrupt practices. Furthermore, they have committed state terrorism, forcefully disappearing the opposition members, torturing them, and illegally confiscating their assets. Some evidence indicates that the members of the AKP government have transferred arms and explosives to the jihadist regions. Therefore, Erdogan and his entourage, fearful of future investigations about their wrongdoings, have been aware of the risks if they lose the power in their hands. Turkey’s political system has been getting dirtier and more criminally involved since the corruption scandals. Therefore, Erdogan’s interest in the table is more critical than ever, and the coming election means for himself and his entourage to fight for survival. 

Can Turkey have fair elections?

No one relies on the current system and believes Turkey can have fair elections. First, the AKP government’s efforts to protect its regime after the December 17-25 corruption scandals and the suspicious July 15 coup attempt have presented opportunities for Erdogan. After purging thousands of police, military personnel, judges, and prosecutors, no one in the country can even dare to ask any question about any government wrongdoings. The purged officers were replaced with AKP followers. All courts have been filled with judges and prosecutors who openly support the AKP regime. The High Election Board (Yuksek Secim Kurulu – YSK) and Supreme Court judges cannot rule on any decision violating the interest of the AKP government. Each judge knows well that they will be labeled as a terrorist right after their home is raided at dawn by the police, be handcuffed in the back, and be detained if their verdict is against the government’s interests. Therefore, YSK is ready to rule on whatever Erdogan wants in the elections.

Second, Anatolian Agency (AA) is Turkey’s only institution reporting election results. However, it is under the absolute control of the AKP government, and it is expected that they will report results in whatever the government allows to share.

Third, no one knows who will be the rival candidate of Erdogan. However, the AKP has already started putting pressure on the possible candidates. One of them is Istanbul’s Municipality Mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, a strong candidate that holds the majority of the votes against Erdogan according to the polls. However, he has been indicted for insulting YSK members, which he said “dumb” during the Istanbul Municipality elections in 2019, and sentenced to 27 months imprisonment and a ban on doing politics. Imamoglu will not be the candidate in the elections if the supreme court approves his conviction. Erdogan is well-prepared to exploit the power of laws and judges against his rival with flimsy accusations.

Fourth, Erdogan will be using all government resources to be reelected. His efforts to shape people’s perceptions have brought him almost 30 percent of consolidated voters in the country. A significant portion of these people do not question impoverishing results of the government’s politics but are satisfied to get social aid in small amounts. They believe that these aids will disappear if the AKP is not elected. Another vital tool in Erdogan’s box to shape perceptions is the power of religion. Oppressed by the secular system in Turkey, these people believe that the mosques will be shut down and there will be a ban on wearing headscarves in the universities and government buildings if the AKP is not reelected. Finally, Erdogan’s perception games cogently convey to his adamant followers that Turkey will be in trouble if he is not sitting in his position.

Fifth, Turkey’s economy is in tatters. The government fails to repair runaway inflation and a collapsing lira that have pushed millions of Turks to the brink of financial ruin. In addition, the country turns out to be the hub of money laundering. Many factors play a crucial role during the economic collapse, but the transition to authoritarianism deserves the most attention. To appease people’s reactions and get their votes, the AKP government raised the minimum wage by 55 percent and civil servants’ salaries by 30 percent in January 2023. The government also approved the early retirement of around 1.5 million people. They all significantly burden Turkey’s economy but will bring votes for Erdogan.

Can Erdogan use security and terrorism cards again?

Using security cards depends on how much Erdogan feels guaranteed to be reelected. The more Erdogan worries about the election results, the more he can actively resort to violence and use the power of terrorism. First, Erdogan is one of the leaders who have exploited the power of terrorism worldwide. Knowing what terrorism means for the western world, Erdogan has accused his opponents of being terrorists. Even though terrorism databases have recorded dozens of terrorist attacks by predominantly the PKK terrorist organization in a year in Turkey, Erdogan’s AKP has swayed influence over police and judiciary and directed to conduct thousands of terrorist investigations. Most of these investigations have used scant evidence and failed to convince the western audience. However, it would be easy for the AKP government to be persuasive in the eyes of Turkish people exposed to Erdogan’s media.

Turkey recorded suspicious terrorist attacks between June 7 and November 1 elections in 2015. When Erdogan’s AKP failed to get the majority in the June 7 elections, Erdogan threatened people and said, “give us 400 members of the parliament and let it finish smoothly.” Then Turkey recorded suspicious terrorist attacks between two periods and its immediate halt right after the AKP got the majority on November 1, 2015, elections.

Turkey already saw two suspicious attacks in Istanbul and Gaziantep provinces in November 2022 and attributed them to a Kurdish group in Syria as the perpetrators, including some ungrounded accusations of the United States being behind the attacks. Before the elections, Turkey will likely be recording suspicious terrorist attacks allegedly by ISIS or PKK to convince Turkish people that “foreign forces”—a common phrase used by the AKP to base conspiracy theories that westerners can interfere with the country’s domestic and international affairs— would threaten Turkey’s security if the AKP government is replaced.

Second, Turkey may record political assassinations to convince the voters. Turkey already witnessed the assassination of the head of Grey Wolves, a nationalist movement that believes in the superiority of Turkish ethnicity, who were targeted in Ankara on December 30, 2022. The motive behind the assassination is unclear. It is related to narco-terrorism for some commentators but is a homicide targeting the Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetci Hareket Partisi – MHP), a coalition partner of the AKP government, for others.

Third, Turkey may see a fake assassination attempt targeting President Erdogan or one of the eminent members of the AKP government. The percentage of floating voters is around 15 percent. It looks quite significant when the government’s current support is around 40 percent. So it may be convincing to show the AKP as a political victim and get votes.

Fourth, the government may target the opposition members out of the country. For example, well-known seculars, Kurds, or Gulenists could be the target to show the operational capacity of the government abroad.       

Who is the most critical political party in the elections?

Turkey now has two political blocs: the AKP and MHP coalition is against the opposition bloc, Table for Six. The polls show close results with each other. For example, according to the most recent polls in early January 2023, the AKP and MHP partnership vote rate was 38.2, while it was 42.6 for Table for Six parties. On the other hand, the Kurdish Party, People’s Democratic Party (Halklarin Demokratik Partisi – HDP), vote rate is around 12 percent. Erdogan successfully discriminated against and marginalized HDP and showed it as a terrorist organization; therefore, the Table for Six wrongfully excluded and distanced from HDP, keeping it out of their bloc. No matter how HDP is treated, its 12 percent potential votes will be critical to elect the next President.

What states can actively participate in the elections and favor the AKP government?

Turkey has distanced itself from western values and been closer to authoritarian states in the last years. Erdogan’s relationships with the leaders of authoritarian states have made Turkey vulnerable to these countries’ influences. In this context, Russia, Qatar, and Iran are three countries that support Erdogan’s Turkey. Erdogan’s attitude against the United States has gratified Russia and Iran. The Washington Post article underlined how Russia spent millions of dollars to support foreign political parties and candidates. Russia has already  approved Turkey’s request to delay gas payments. It would not be wrong to say that President Putin wants to see Erdogan in Turkey’s leadership because he knows well that Turkey will continue to take the side of Russia and protect its interests in Ukraine and Syria. Qatar draws special attention in terms of its investment in Turkey. The close friendship between Erdogan and the emir of Qatar is based on mutual interests. Erdogan launders his corrupt money through Qatar, and Qatar’s leader and his business people make considerable investments in Turkey’s business and tourism sectors. Qatar has already injected billions of dollars into Turkey It seems that both Russia and Qatar will continue to loan for temporary relief on the economy before the elections. Finally, Iran enjoys being influential in Turkey’s politics and bureaucracy and will give its support for Erdogan’s reelection.

What may happen if Erdogan wins again?

If Erdogan is reelected, it will substantially impact Turkey’s politics and economy. The AKP lacks the capacity to fix the economy because it is the cause of systemic corruption in Turkey. Almost every government contract includes corruption, and the AKP’s reluctance to curb it will produce an increased capacity for corruption. In addition, the government has already raised salaries, increasing the budget deficit. As a result, inflation will soar, and Turkish people will see rising prices after the elections.

There are quite a few opposition voices in Turkey, and they will be silenced, too. Turkey will again see police operations and terrorism accusations against the opposition with scant evidence. Moreover, Erdogan will continue to blackmail and threaten the western world for his interests. Turkey will not see any improvements in human rights and free media issues. On the contrary, disgruntled and desperate people will leave the country and flock to western countries in masses.

What may happen if the rival candidate wins?

Seeing the rival candidate win is not a solid option, considering how the AKP government can interfere with the elections. However, if the rival candidate wins, he will have difficulty restoring Turkey to its original settings in politics and economy. It will be challenging to fix the economy. The swift transition to democracy would be the best solution to rescue Turkey from the remnants of authoritarianism and remove it again from the influences of Russia and Iran. In this context, western support will be critical to returning Turkey to a democratic state. Also, supposing the rival candidate is courageous enough to shed light on AKP’s 20-year wrongdoings, the world, in that case, will be shocked to see how much money is stolen from Turkey, homicides committed, and criminal and mafia groups are supported under the AKP’s leadership.

What can the US and EU do?

The AKP’s 20-year ruling has seen fluctuating relationships between Turkey and the US. The AKP’s early years, which prioritized transitioning to democracy, got support from the US. In the meantime, no one has understood the close friendship between President Erdogan and former President Donald Trump, but it was mainly based on the mutual personal interests of both leaders. It was, for Trump, to protect his business interests in Turkey. In contrast, it was, for Erdogan, to see Trump’s intervention in the Halk Bank investigation in the US that implicated the AKP government. If Erdogan is elected, the US should be ready again to see Erdogan’s blackmails in NATO and use his cards of Syria, Iran, and Russia. The only solution would be to support fair elections and pressure the international community to participate in the country’s elections.

European Union (EU) deserves the most considerable criticism regarding its silence during Turkey’s transition to an authoritarian regime. Fearful of Erdogan’s blackmail to release millions of Syrian and Afghan refugees in Turkey, the EU has watched human rights violations and media closures by doing nothing. Like the United States, the EU should take an active role in a fair election in Turkey. Otherwise, the EU will constantly see Erdogan blackmails on the refugee crisis and his obstacles to Finland and Sweden’s accession to NATO. 

To conclude, Turkey will have its most critical elections in 2023. It is a chance to see a democratic Turkey and a reliable member of NATO again if the rival candidate wins the elections. However, the indicators of who can win the elections do not seem promising. Considering his wrongdoings and the possibility of future investigations, Erdogan cannot leave his position and will do whatever is necessary to win the elections. Turkey can have a hard time before the elections depending on how secure Erdogan feels about the election results. If the polls indicate the rival candidate’s possible victory, Turkey will likely record suspicious terrorist attacks or assassinations. Turkey will be drowned in darkness if Erdogan is reelected, and the Turkish people will pay the considerable cost.   

Amer Ababakr – moderndiplomacy

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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