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Elections in Turkey 2023. Twilight of the “sultan” – Erdogan has never been so close to losing power

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The outbreak of chaos in Turkey after the presidential election is the worst, but also the most likely scenario, says Dr. Karol Wasilewski, an expert on Turkey. As he emphasizes in an interview with tvn24.pl, the importance of these elections is enormous, but regardless of their outcome, “Turkey will never be a good ally” of the West.

The presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for May 14 in Turkey have been declared successful the most important elections in the world this year. Their importance goes far beyond Turkish borders. What can be expected in them and why they are so important, an expert on Turkey, Dr. Karol Wasilewski, an analyst at 4CF The Futures Literacy Company, author of the recently published book “Dream of Power. Neo-Ottomanism in the foreign policy of the Republic of Turkey”, explains in an interview with tvn24.pl “.

Maciej Michałek, tvn24.pl: The twilight of the “sultan” is approaching? It seems that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years, has never been so close to being removed from power.

Dr. Karol Wasilewski, 4CF: Indeed, we are currently seeing the best conditions for Erdogan to fall from power. This is due to many factors: the difficult economic situation in Turkey, the tragic consequences of the recent earthquake, as well as the public mood in which the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is very tired, and to a lesser extent also Erdogan himself.

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So the twilight of the “sultan”?

Whether it’s twilight, I wouldn’t be sure though. Erdogan is still very strong, he maintains control over the entire state apparatus, all offices, the Turkish media. In addition, having ruled for 20 years, he can present himself as the one who has the experience necessary to be president. In addition, there is also the most delicate element, i.e. the credibility of the presidential elections in Turkey, whether they will not be rigged. And Erdogan is extremely determined to win. His loss would mean the end of his legend, carefully built for 20 years, and political settlements and lawsuits. It’s still a game for him.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Elections in TurkeyGetty Images

SEE ALSO: Analysts on Tayyip Erdogan’s election campaign. “It is based on fighters, tanks and warships”

The opposition candidate and Erdogan’s main rival is the “Turkish Gandhi” – Kemal Kilicdaroglu, chairman of the Social Democratic Republican People’s Party. Why is it called that?

This is a popular term, but the source of it is mainly a physical resemblance to Mahatma Gandhi and speaking in a mild language. Kilicdaroglu is not very charismatic, not very confrontational politician, so he stands out in Turkish politics because he does not pretend to be “macho”.

What else is known about him?

He is the leader of the main opposition party in Turkey, which has undergone a huge transformation under his rule. In this social democratic party, previously perceived as extremely secular, he tried to include conservative elements. He correctly assessed that the openly anti-religious image of this party made it unelected, unable to win Turkish elections. Kilicdaroglu is also a longtime bureaucrat who has lost every election he has faced Erdogan so far. It focuses on consensual politics, on seeking agreement, not on polarizing people. He is a kind of antithesis of Erdogan, thanks to which his ratings are not as bad as it was thought at the beginning of the presidential campaign.

It is interesting that Erdogan’s main rival in the elections was him – a man without charisma and with a history of electoral failures. I met with the assessment that any other leader of the Turkish opposition would have polls better odds than Kilicdaroglu.

Until a few weeks ago, when Kilicdaroglu was elected as the opposition’s presidential candidate, the other leaders of the Turkish opposition seemed very dissatisfied. Even the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, who are also trying to be the opposition’s candidate, had better results in the polls.

Why choose Kilicdaroglu then?

In the fight for the opposition’s nomination, Kilicdaroglu ultimately prevailed with his determination, self-centeredness and experience in public administration. However, it can be said that in doing so he prevailed over what Turkey needs most now, after Erdogan’s long rule and his political machismo. Kilicdaroglu is doing better than expected, also because he may be the politician to turn to Turkish Kurds and Alevis, making it an asset and building a more diverse Turkish community.

Turkish Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal KilicdarogluReuters Archive

If the opposition candidate is the favorite in the elections, maybe Turkish democracy is not so bad, and Erdogan is not as much of a despot as many in the West see him?

I do not think that the candidate of the Turkish opposition is the leader of the polls, and I would not look at the polls at all.

Why should we not look at the polls?

There is a serious problem with objectivity and credibility in Turkish polls, which is why we should look primarily at trends in public sentiment.

And what are these trends?

Based on them, I still consider Erdogan to be the favourite: because he still has all the instruments to influence society, including control over the media. However, Turkish society is also very divided and it is difficult to predict anything. The deep weariness of Erdogan’s party, its cronyism, nepotismobsession with managing everything centrally, low efficiency, waste of resources – all of which were vividly demonstrated by the recent tragic earthquake in Turkey.

SEE ALSO: Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks nine years younger on the ballot

What is the state of Turkish democracy?

In fact, only these elections will allow us to assess whether the Turkish political system is still a place where real opposition can exist, or whether it is already a real authoritarianism in which it only gives the impression that some opposition exists.

Suppose Erdogan ultimately loses the presidential election, most likely by a narrow margin. Can you imagine him then admitting defeat and simply relinquishing power?

A small difference, a few percent or even less, is the most dangerous electoral result. It’s not just a question of possible electoral fraud. The main thing we can expect from this Turkish election is an extremely skewed in favor of Erdogan the first official election results, which could have catastrophic consequences. This is a practice practiced in all recent elections in Turkey, as the first results are reported by only one government agency, Anatolia.

Why is it so dangerous?

I am afraid of the scenario that the real difference in votes between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu will be small. When the Anatolia agency reports preliminary results that are possibly favorable for Erdogan, Erdogan will prematurely announce his victory. Then his supporters will take to the streets to celebrate, while opposition observers will demobilize, which in turn will be used to falsify electoral votes. Erdogan is such an erratic politician and Turkey is such a strange country that I wouldn’t be surprised if he acknowledged his electoral defeat. However, I believe that he will most likely fight to the very end, radically using absolutely all the resources at his disposal to stay in power.

SEE ALSO: Türkiye hands over the first aircraft carrier to the navy, equipped with the Bayraktar drone

In short, do you expect the elections to end in turmoil in Turkey?

This is one of the worst case scenarios.

But is it the most likely?

It all depends on the results of the presidential election. I think so, unfortunately. This is a scenario that many experts fear, looking at the experience of recent years: doubts about the fairness of the referendum on the presidential system in 2017, celebrating the electoral victory of the AKP and Erdogan in 2018, e.g. firing guns into the air, repeated elections in 2019 in Istanbul after the AKP candidate lost power in them.

Politico recently called the elections in Turkey the most important elections in the world this year. Do you agree with this statement?

I don’t know if I agree with that. However, the significance of these choices is undoubtedly enormous. This meaning results from looking for boundaries in the world for the formation of very populist regimes in place of democratic regimes, boundaries for governing by proclaiming popular slogans instead of real actions to improve the lives of citizens, boundaries for ad hoc politics and adding money where there is currently a shortage instead of policies based on systemic actions that would ensure a better distribution of resources across society.

What does this mean for us? For Poland as a member FOR THIS and the European Union?

We are currently seeing the formation of two great blocs of states in the world: democratic and authoritarian. In simple terms, Erdogan’s electoral victory would bring Turkey closer to the authoritarian bloc, while Kilicdaroglu’s victory would bring Turkey closer to the West. The victory of the opposition will not solve many problems dividing Turkey and the West, but Turkey would certainly pursue a less adventurous foreign policy, return to practicing real diplomacy, and not megaphone diplomacy (rally, populist – ed.).

However, if we think that Turkey under Kilicdaroglu will be our good ally, this is not true. Türkiye will never be a good ally again because it finds this Western label derogatory. Türkiye will continue to pursue its own foreign policy goals. But if the opposition wins, it will certainly be easier for us to cooperate with them.

SEE ALSO: Erdogan: Putin may visit our country

Main photo source: Getty Images

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