Sunday’s vote will decide whether the Erdogan era ends, and could have major geopolitical consequences
Some 64 million Turkish citizens are expected to vote in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The showdown between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu will determine whether or not Türkiye turns back to the West, while dozens of parties will fight it out for control of the country’s 600-seat legislature.
Recep Tayyip ErdoganPresident since 2014 and prime minister for 11 years beforehand, Erdogan is a social conservative who has steered Türkiye away from integration with the EU while promoting moderate Islamist policies at home. After defeating an attempted coup by a faction of the Turkish military in 2016, Erdogan dramatically strengthened the power of the presidency with a package of constitutional reforms the following year.
The 69-year-old president is the founder and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), currently the largest faction in parliament.
Kemal KilicdarogluErdogan’s chief rival, Kilicdaroglu is a 74-year-old former civil servant who leads the Republican People’s Party (CHP). A secularist, Kilicdaroglu has promised to roll back the powers of his office and return Türkiye to a parliamentary system with a prime minister in charge, while implementing judicial and human rights reforms demanded by the EU. Kilicdaroglu’s CHP is currently the second-largest party in parliament. Outsider candidatesTwo other candidates are seeking the presidency. Sinan Ogan is an academic and a right-wing nationalist who has promised to deport Syrian refugees and strengthen Türkiye’s relations with other Turkic states. Although a former member of the Erdogan-allied Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), Ogan is running as an independent. Muharrem Ince withdrew from the race on Thursday following the online release of a purported sex tape, which he claimed was fake. Ince leads the Homeland Party, a faction that split from Kilicdaroglu’s CHP in 2021. His withdrawal is widely seen as benefiting Kilicdaroglu, who will likely claim most of Ince’s voters.
The alliancesErdogan, Kilicdaroglu, and Ogan are backed by alliances of multiple parties, all of whom are also competing for seats in parliament.
Erdogan’s AKP is the largest party in the People’s Alliance, a group that also includes the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Islamist Great Unity Party (BBP) and New Welfare Party (YRP).
Kilicdaroglu’s CHP is the largest member of the Nation Alliance, a six-party group of mainly center-left and center-right parties, all of whom are broadly pro-European and secularist.
Ogan is backed by the Ancestral Alliance, a grouping of four predominantly nationalist parties.
How the election worksVoting will take place on Sunday, although Turks living abroad have been able to cast their ballots since April 27. Should no presidential candidate receive a 50% share of the vote, a runoff election will be held between the top two candidates on May 28. Results are generally known by the early hours of the following morning. Parliamentary seats are assigned based on proportional representation, with voters choosing from party lists rather than voting for candidates directly. Parties must obtain a share of at least 7% of the vote by itself or as part of an alliance to enter parliament.
The geopolitical stakesShould Erdogan emerge victorious, Türkiye will likely stay on its current path of relative geopolitical independence. Although Türkiye is a member of the NATO alliance, Erdogan has deepened trade and diplomatic relations with Russia, while refusing to sanction Moscow for its military operation in Ukraine. Under Erdogan, Türkiye’s EU membership talks have stalled since 2016, with the president ignoring Brussels’ warnings that his 2017 constitutional reforms would imperil the country’s bid to join the bloc.
If Kilicdaroglu wins, he has promised to immediately restart EU membership talks and align Türkiye’s domestic policies with those of the bloc. This would entail complying with the directives of the European Court of Human Rights and releasing prisoners the Erdogan government considers terrorists.
Kilicdaroglu has vowed to repair his country’s strained ties with its NATO allies, and to comply with the US’ sanctions on Russia. Although he has said that he would maintain economic ties with Russia and would be open to hosting peace talks between Moscow and Kiev, he recently said that he would
“also remind Russia that Türkiye is a member of NATO.” Who will win?Beset by stubbornly high inflation and the humanitarian and economic catastrophe caused by a pair of devastating earthquakes in February, Erdogan is heading into what may be his toughest election to date. Most polls taken this month show Kilicdaroglu leading Erdogan by between one and five points. An amalgamation of Turkish polls currently predicts Kilicdaroglu taking 49.8% of the vote and Erdogan 46.7%, with Ogan coming in a distant third at 3.5%.
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