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Türkiye’s crucial elections are set to go down to the wire

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Picture: Luke MacGregor/REUTERS/Taken October 8, 2014 – A demonstrator wears a Kurdish flag during a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London. On May 14, Türkiye will hold critical elections for the country and several left and progressive forces have decided to join the united opposition to defeat long-term President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his right-wing AKP.

By Abdul Rahman

Türkiye will be holding elections for its national parliament and presidency on May 14. Early polls indicate that long-term ruling President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) are, for the first time in the past two decades, facing a tough challenge in both the elections. This is a critical election for the country and several left and progressive forces have decided to join the united opposition to defeat Erdoğan and his right-wing AKP.

Centrist Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) is the joint presidential candidate of the alliance of six major opposition parties with mixed ideological positions. Apart from the left, the other five parties in the alliance are DEVA, Gelecek or Future Party, Democrat Party, Islamist Felicity, and the nationalist iYi or Good party. He is also backed by several other smaller parties. This united effort, helped by the accumulated anti-incumbency of the last two decades, can have a significant role in deciding the outcome of the elections. According to the latest polls, Kılıçdaroğlu holds a 3 percent lead over Erdoğan.

The other two presidential candidates are Muharrem Ince, who was the runner-up in the last presidential elections in 2018 and has decided to contest despite CHP deciding on Kılıçdaroğlu this time, and Sinan Ogan, who is the candidate of an alliance of smaller nationalist parties.

In Türkiye, elections for the post of president take place on the basis of a majority system where if no candidate gets at least 50 percent+1 vote in the first round, a second round is held between the two leading contenders.

The elections for the parliament take place through a closed party list under a proportional representation system. The country is divided into 87 electoral districts with the number of seats for each district based on its population. A party or an alliance needs a minimum of 7 percent votes at the national level to win seats in the parliament.

These elections will see three major alliances fighting for a total of 600 seats in the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye: the CHP-led Nation Alliance, the AKP-led People’s Alliance, and the People’s Democratic Party (HDP)-led Labour and Freedom Alliance. Parties in these alliances won almost all the seats in the last parliamentary elections in 2018.

Meanwhile, much before voting starts in Türkiye, expatriates have already begun voting. There are around 3.5 million expatriate voters across the globe, and according to some analysts, their vote may be decisive in the close race for the presidency.

Major electoral issues

According to the public opinion polls, the deteriorating economy is the most important issue for voters. The majority of the Turkish people are suffering from a prolonged rise in prices of basic commodities, which, together with the falling value of the Turkish lira, is creating a massive cost of living crisis. The year-on-year inflation touched a 24-year high of over 85 percent last year. According to the latest official data, the inflation rate is still close to 44 percent.

The Erdoğan government also failed to respond in a timely manner to the demand for increasing minimum wages raised by the country’s trade unions and left parties. When Erdoğan announced the raise in the minimum wages with an eye on the elections, the unions called it too little too late.

Apart from economic concerns, Turkish voters are also concerned about corruption in government institutions.

Among other issues, the presence of over four million refugees in the country, a majority of them from Syria, has led to various local-level mobilisations by the right-wing parties, forcing all presidential candidates to take positions on the matter, with both Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan promising their repatriation.

Accusations of inefficiency in the rescue and rehabilitation of the millions of victims of the February 6 earthquake has also become a major poll issue. The earthquake impacted both Türkiye and Syria and killed over 50,000 people in Türkiye alone.

Another major issue raised by the six-party Nation Alliance is the question of centralisation of power in the presidency due to constitutional amendments brought by Erdoğan in 2018. The Alliance has promised to undo the presidential system and make the parliament as powerful as it was before the amendments.

Erdoğan, who has been in power in Türkiye since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, has also been accused by the opposition of being dictatorial and pursuing a campaign of persecution against opposition forces.

Significance of Left presence

Left parties are fighting the parliamentary elections under two broad alliances. The Union of Socialist Forces (SGB) includes the Turkish Communist Party (TKP) and the Left Party (SoL), along with two others. Fighting these elections on people’s livelihood issues, these parties are trying to enter the parliament for the first time.

The second, Labour and Freedom Alliance, includes the HDP and the Workers Party of Türkiye (TiP), among others. It was the third largest group in the Turkish parliament in the 2018 elections, with HDP winning 56 seats and TiP four.

While the SGB has not taken any official stand on the presidential elections, the HDP and its allies have formally announced their support for Kılıçdaroğlu.

The left-wing, pro-Kurdish HDP is expected to retain its current position in the parliament and its loyal voters can play a significant role in deciding the next president of Türkiye. This is despite a prolonged period of persecution faced by the party and its cadres under Erdoğan’s rule.

Erdoğan has already tried to make HDP’s support to Kılıçdaroğlu an electoral issue by alleging its links with terrorism in his election rallies.

This article was first published on Peoples Dispatch