The most important presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey in two decades will begin tomorrow, with far-reaching implications for the country’s regional and international standing.
With the main opposition coalition posing such a formidable challenge, the political future of Erdogan and his ability to remain in office are finally the subject of genuine anticipation. For the first time, the opposition coalition was able to get past ideological differences in order to accomplish its primary goal—defeating Erdogan and putting an end to the Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) 21-year rule. In any case, the outcome of these elections will determine the place of the various political parties and their roles in Turkish politics over the next five years.
This article provides a bird’s-eye view of the candidates, leading alliances, and potential voting trends for the main groups whose votes have historically played a decisive role in tipping the scales in favor of a particular party, alliance, or candidate, in the upcoming Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections.
Turkish Election Map and Voting Predictions
The upcoming elections in Turkey, according to analysts, will be the most competitive in the nation’s history due to the closeness of the polls and the unification of opposition forces behind a single candidate. The following is an overview of the election map:
1. Parliamentary Election
There are a total of 600 parliamentary seats up for grabs in Turkey’s upcoming election, and all of them will be decided by a proportional representation system across 87 constituencies (the country’s 81 provinces make up a single electoral constituency, with the exception of Bursa and Izmir, which were split into two constituencies each, and Ankara and Istanbul, which were split into three). 36 Turkish parties have met the conditions stipulated for participating in the elections. Some of these parties are part of the following four major electoral coalitions:
• People’s Alliance (PA): It comprises the AKP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Great Unity Party (BBP), the New Welfare Party (YRP), and the Free Cause Party (HDP, The Huta Bar). It is an alliance of right-wing Islamic nationalists. Each party made the decision to run in the elections using its own catchphrases and lists. Regarding the AKP as the ruling party, it should be noted that 104 of the current deputies were named as candidates, while 181 others—including senior executives like Binali Yildirim, Mehmet zhaseki, Nurettin Canikli, Ali hsan Yavuz, and Bulent Turan—were left off the list. Except for Health Minister Fahrettin Koca and Culture and Tourism Minister Mehmet Nuri Ersoy, all ministers were nominated. The party did not nominate former governor of Hatay, Rahmi Dogan, who resigned in the face of widespread criticism for his failure and incompetence in managing earthquake response. As a result, the party’s list has been completely revised in over 35 provinces, and it now features 487 male and 113 female candidates. On the other hand, in order to prevent their party names from appearing independently, the party nominated three members of the Democratic Left Party and four members of the radical Islamist FCP, the political wing of the Iranian-backed Turkish Hezbollah that garnered 155,000 votes in the 2018 elections.
The PA also includes the BBP, which considers Islam to be a significant part of Turkish identity. The BBP is suspected of taking part in a number of political killings in Turkey as well as the 2007 murder of US journalist Hrant Dink. The YRP is another member of the PA, and it adheres to the philosophy of the Turkish Milli Gorus movement, a religious-political and ideological movement that was inspired by Necmettin Erbakan and contends that Turkey can develop with its human and economic strength by defending its core values, placing faith in God, and engaging in competition with Western nations. The HDP, another member of the PA, has been linked to the torture and murder of numerous businessmen, politicians, and human rights activists in 1990s in Anatolia.
• Table of Six Alliance (TSA, the Nation Alliance): It is the primary opposition alliance and consists of six parties with a variety of ideologies, including Islamist, liberal, right-wing, and social democratic. Four parties within the TSA, namely the Felicity Party (SP), the Democrat Party (DP), the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), and the Future Party (GP), will present their candidates within the Republican People’s Party (CHP) list, meaning that their parties will not appear independently on the electoral lists. This also pertains to the Change Party (TDP), which is not included in the TSA. In cooperation with the Good Party (IYI), the CHP did not nominate any candidates in seven out of 81 provinces, whereas the latter did not do so in nine provinces.
Following the failure of the right-wing parties to initially produce a separate joint list in order to win about 20 seats in the Turkish parliament, the CHP presented a list of 76 candidates from its right-wing political allies. At least 33 of them are likely to triumph, with the winners being split as follows: eleven candidates from DEVA, eleven from the GP, eight from the SP, and three from the DP. For the first time in its history, the CHP is giving a platform to right-wing politicians like Sadullah Ergin, deputy head of the DEVA and former Minister of Justice, Sema Silkin Un, former private secretary to Erdogan’s wife, and Cemal Enginyurt, former supporter of Erdogan’s government and member of the DP. IYI presented its own list of candidates, which included Idris Naim Shaheen, the former Interior Minister of the AKP.
The TSA’s proposed program covers a wide range of topics, including political reform, public administration, law, justice, anti-corruption efforts, job creation, social policy, education, science and technology, and international and national security, to the tune of 2,300 bullet points. The program’s main goals include establishing mechanisms to control public spending, bringing back the parliamentary system, strengthening protections for the transfer of power and the independence of the judiciary, and subjecting the budget law to rigorous parliamentary review.
However, no clear executive mechanisms or specific financial sources for financing the program were outlined, and there were discrepancies regarding the means of addressing existing issues. It appears that each member of the TSA has its own agenda for resolving the economic crisis and the refugee issue, and that each party has its own strategy for addressing the issues of restoring the independence of the Central Bank of Turkey (TCMB) and combating nepotism and corruption.
• The Labor and Freedom Alliance (LFA): It adopts a leftist stance and consists of six parties: the Social Freedom Party (TOP), the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP), the Labour Party (EMEP), the Labourist Movement Party (EHP), and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). In order to avoid the possibility of being banned just days before the elections, the HDP has decided to run in the elections under the banner of the Party of Greens and the Left Future (YSGP). Five LFA parties made the decision to list their candidates on the YSGP list. The TIP listed candidates for 49 provinces, and the HDP did not list 33 of the current members of parliament on the YSGP list.
In its 12-page program, the LFA calls for implementing a humane economic system, emphasizing the creation of a democratic system based on people’s rule, resolving the Kurdish issue peacefully and democratically, upholding the principles of justice and equality, ensuring women’s freedom, aiding those with disabilities and marginalized groups, protecting the environment, cultural assets, and nature, and enhancing the living and working conditions of the general public. The LFA promises to halt price increases, pursue an economic strategy to end poverty, implement a “social rights program” in which people with monthly incomes below the poverty line will receive free electricity, gas, water, and internet access, and act quickly to nationalize the energy and transportation networks, as well as the health and education sectors. However, given the widespread mistrust of Syrians, who are frequently accused of sympathizing with Islamist groups, and the Turkish left’s interest in domestic issues, the LFA keeps silent on the refugee issue. The LFA electoral program briefly addresses this problem by urging regional peace in order to ensure the return of asylum seekers while respecting the wishes of those who wish to remain.
• Ancestral Alliance (AA): This is a right-wing alliance made up of the Victory Party (ZP), the Justice Party (AP), the My Country Party (UP), and the Turkish Alliance Party that was founded by MHP dissidents in March 2023. The AA has a stance against refugees, particularly those from Syria and Afghanistan.
Following the calculation of the averages of the combined results of opinion polls recently conducted by 11 research organizations and centers (e.g. YoneYlem, MAK, AR-G Research, ALF, Piar, Aksoy Research, ORC, GENAR, Saros Research, Türkiye Raporu, and ARTIBIR), some of which are affiliated with the opposition and others of which are devoted to the government, it was discovered that the AKP received approximately 32.8 percent of the vote, followed by the CHP with approximately 27.6 percent, the HDP with approximately 10.7 percent, the IYI with approximately 10.5 percent, and the MHP with approximately 6.5 percent. Based on surveys conducted by research firms, the following graph displays the weighted average voting percentages for each party.
Figure 1: Parliamentary election survey results
Based on the average results of recent polls, the ruling coalition may receive approximately 41 percent of the vote, while the opposition coalition may receive slightly more than 45 percent.
2. Presidential Election
While 11 candidates sought election, only four met the constitutional requirements for candidacy.
According to the constitution, anyone over 40 with a university degree is eligible to run for president as long as they gather 100,000 voter signatures or secure the backing of a party in parliament that received at least 5 percent of the vote nationally in the most recent elections.
Four candidates met the criteria: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the CHP, and the candidate of the TSA, and both received the support of their respective parties, while Muharrem Ince, the head of the Homeland Party (MP), was able to gather 114,657 voter signatures, and Sinan Ogan, the candidate of the AA, received 111,502 signatures. To win the presidential election, a candidate must receive 50 percent+1 of the vote in the first round, or there must be a run-off between the two candidates with the most votes. A review of the four candidates is provided below.
• Recep Tayyip Erdogan: He is the current president of Turkey (aged 69), and his health is being questioned. After serving as prime minister from 2003 to 2014, he became president of Turkey in 2014 and has held that position ever since. In 2017, Erdogan put forth a constitutional amendment that changed the political system from a parliamentary to a presidential one. During the first decade of his rule, he was credited with implementing extensive political and economic reforms that greatly boosted his popularity. However, his popularity quickly waned as a result of deviating from pragmatic politics and adopting ideological policies that entangled Turkey in regional disputes that have drained its economy and increased its regional isolation.
He was Turkey’s prime minister from 2003 to 2014. In 2014, he was elected president and has held that position ever since. During the first decade of his rule, he was credited with implementing extensive political and economic reforms that greatly boosted his popularity. However, his popularity quickly waned as a result of deviating from pragmatic politics and adopting ideological policies that entangled Turkey in regional disputes that have drained its economy and increased its regional isolation, before it has recently adopted a more conciliatory stance than in the past.
• Kemal Kilicdaroglu: He is Erdogan’s chief rival and CHP leader. Kilicdaroglu was born in 1948 into an Alevi family in Ballca, a small mountain village in the Tunceli Province of Eastern Anatolia. He earned a degree in Economics and Finance from the Ankara Academy of Economic and Commercial Sciences. In 1971, he began his professional career as a consultant for the Turkish Ministry of Treasury and Finance. In 1992, he was named director of the Social Security Authority. Kilicdaroglu’s entry into politics was prompted by a report he wrote on corruption for the CHP that was well received by the party’s then-leader Deniz Baykal. In the 2002 elections, he won a seat in parliament, and in 2007 he was appointed deputy head of the CHP’s parliamentary group. After publishing evidence of corruption in Turkey, Kilicdaroglu’s media exposure significantly increased.
He ran for mayor of Istanbul in 2009 but lost to the AKP candidate due to the moral scandal that former party leader Baykal had to endure. After Baykal resigned, Kilicdaroglu was elected party president by garnering all 1,189 valid votes at the party conference. Later on, however, he came under fire and was blamed for the electoral losses the CHP endured in the 2011, 2014, and 2015 elections. Kilicdaroglu, in contrast to Erdogan, lacks a charismatic personality and is renowned for his extreme calmness. Due to his slight physical resemblance to Gandhi, he is also known as the Turkish Gandhi.
• Muharram Ince: He was born in Yalova in 1964 and graduated from Bursa Uludag University with a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Chemistry. Ince is running for president for the second time, but this time as a candidate for the MP, which he founded in May 2021 following conflicts with the CHP, the party for which he ran in the 2018 elections and received 30.6 percent of the vote, before his relationship with the party, which he represented in four straight elections from 2002 to 2015, deteriorated. Ince is primarily supported by the MP, which defines itself as a party of the center-left. His relative youth and social media presence on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram have made him one of the most popular candidates among young voters.
• Sinan Ogan: He is a 55-year-old far-right politician and former academic. He earned a business administration degree from Marmara University in 1989, a master’s in financial banking law from the same institution in 1992, and a doctorate in international relations from the Moscow State Institute in 2009. Between 1992 and 2000, he served as both a lecturer and a representative of the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TKA) of the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He established the Center of International Relations and Strategic Analysis (TURKSAM) in 2004. He first entered politics in 2011 when he was elected as a parliamentarian for the MHP. He was also a member of the Parliamentary Friendship Groups between Turkey and Albania and Turkey and Niger, as well as the Secretary General of the Parliamentary Friendship Group between Turkey and Azerbaijan.
However, he was kicked out of the MHP in 2015 when Devlet Bahceli, the party’s current leader, decided to form an alliance with the AKP and Ogan spoke out against Bahceli’s leadership. The party justified his expulsion on the basis of his behavior, which severely harmed the party’s cohesion. After a lawsuit, he rejoined the party, only to be ousted again in 2017, when the party accused him of “extreme lack of discipline towards the party’s president.” Ogan is a candidate running independently, but because he is of Azerbaijani Turkic descent, the right-wing AA and some minorities support him.
The results of opinion polls conducted by nine organizations and centers were examined, including MAK, Aksoy Research, ORC, Gezici, Metropoll (all of whom are close to the opposition), SONAR, Optimar (both of which are close to the government and the MHP), YoneYlem, and AR-G Research (the orientation of which could not be determined), and the findings for each organization were as follows:
Figure 2: Expected chances of candidates in the Turkish presidential election (based on 9 polls)
Calculating the averages of each candidate’s individual results reveals that Kemal Kilicdaroglu came out on top with 46.8 percent, followed by Erdogan with 43.3 percent. The following graph shows the average results obtained by the candidates based on the poll results of the nine companies mentioned above.
Figure 3: Average success rate for each candidate
It should be noted that the outcomes of the 2018 elections show that the surveys conducted by the ORC, Metropoll, MAK, and Optimar companies provided the most accurate results and came the closest to predicting the outcome of the election.
Voter Categories and Potential Voting Trends
Gaining the support of voters from a variety of circles—which occasionally diverge and occasionally intersect—is necessary to win the election. Turkish nationalists, Kurds, members of the working class, conservative women, young people, naturalized citizens, Turks living abroad, and refugees are some of these groups. Some of these groups’ voting histories and anticipated actions in the upcoming elections are discussed below.
• Working Class: The Turkish working class (constituting 70 percent of the labor force) has historically supported conservative parties, including the AKP, due to its upbringing in the conservative values of its rural origins. The 2022 Global Inequality Report revealed that wealth inequality has increased over the past two decades in Turkey, with 50 percent of the population (lower classes) controlling only 4 percent of the national wealth, 40 percent (middle class) controlling 29 percent of the wealth, and 10 percent (the wealthy) controlling 67 percent of the wealth. The Erdogan era also saw significant restrictions on trade union activity (14 percent of the labor force was unionized, down from 58 percent in 2002). Despite this, the AKP has managed to keep the support of the working class through a combination of conservative religious rhetoric and affordable health and population services.
In order for Kilicdaroglu to attract the working class, he must make promises of social and economic advancement to the lower classes. However, this did not occur adequately for a number of reasons, including: 1) the party’s influence by the transformations of European social democratic parties into parties of the middle and upper classes; 2) the cultural gap between his secular middle-class base and the religiously conservative working class; and 3) is disregard for economic redistribution of wealth and labor rights in order to maintain the unity of the TSA and placate the right-wing parties within it.
• Kurds: Kurds are regarded as “king-makers” in Turkish elections because they make up an estimated 14 percent of the electorate and are a significant voting bloc that no party or candidate can ignore. The Kurds are not a single voting bloc, though, and this needs to be taken into consideration. The HDP frequently receives about half of the votes from the Kurdish population, while the AKP typically receives the votes of the more conservative Kurds. Although it appears that many Kurdish voters have recently defected from Erdogan’s side, the TSA’s stance on the Kurdish issue is still weak due to fear of national and sectarian polarization and divisions among the alliance’s ideologically diverse members. Kilicdaroglu nevertheless vowed to advocate for the liberation of HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas as well as the rights of the Kurds.
• Far-Right Turkish Nationalists: They have historically been the AKP’s main support base, and it is unlikely that they will change their voting preferences in the upcoming elections, with the possible exception of minor shifts in the votes of conservative women, conservative Kurds, and young people. They view the opposition as collaborators with Kurdish separatists who disregard national security concerns and seek to fundamentally alter Turkey’s economic and social system. Erdogan bolstered his chances among right-wing nationalists by forming an electoral alliance of political Islam and extreme nationalism, as was previously mentioned. In the past few years, he has also developed his own Islamic elite by granting privileges to a number of Islamic figures, which they will lose if he loses the election. Perhaps this explains why the sufi Menzil Community, one of the AKP’s most significant religious networks that took the place of the Gulen movement following the failed coup attempt in 2016, has been supporting the PA lately.
• Conservative Women: One of the main pillars of the AKP’s voting base was comprised of conservative women, but it appears that since 2018 and more dramatically after 2020, their voting tendencies have changed as a result of social, economic, and political factors. These include the party’s position on women’s rights, particularly in relation to domestic violence and early marriage, as well as women’s disapproval of the party’s views on family and motherhood, the growing gender pay gap, the pervasive sense of economic insecurity, and their perception that the patriarchal structure of the party exploited them without giving them a voice in policy making. In addition, the AKP allied with the YRP, a staunch supporter of Erdogan’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention, a pan-European agreement urging signatories to monitor, prevent, and punish domestic violence against women. According to leaked information, the YRP urged the AKP to amend Law No. 6284, which protects women from violence.
According to a survey of 1067 women, 68.7 percent of those who voted for the AKP in the 2018 elections are likely to do so again, while 7.8 percent of the votes will go to the CHP, which is trying to win over conservative women, and 2 percent will go to the IYI. Kilicdaroglu also unveiled 10 policies that his alliance plans to implement if he wins, including increasing social benefits for housewives, removing barriers for women entrepreneurs, promoting equal employment opportunities, increasing the number of kindergartens, among other initiatives. Additionally, the center-right DEVA, which is affiliated with the TSA, reaffirmed its commitment to the Istanbul Convention and to combating child abuse and early marriage. Nevertheless, Erdoan continues to enjoy substantial support among conservative female voters as their traditional candidate. The March 2014 Turkiye Raporu poll revealed that 45.1 percent of women would vote for Erdogan and 34.5 percent would vote for Kilicdaroglu, whereas 34.7 percent of male voters would vote for Erdogan and 46.7 percent would vote for Kilicdaroglu.
• Youth: Out of a total eligible voting population of 62,4 million, 3 million young people will cast ballots, 3 million of whom are first-time voters. According to a report compiled by the Turkish Social, Economic, and Political Research Foundation (TUSES), the majority of first-time voters reside in the region of southeast Anatolia with the largest Kurdish population. In a February survey conducted by Turkiye Raporu among young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, 89 percent of respondents said they would vote, 2 percent said they would not vote, and 9 percent were undecided. Young people, therefore, make up a weighted voter population. One out of every three voters is between the ages of 18 and 32, and these voters have seen Erdogan as president for the majority of their lives. They therefore desire change, especially given the failures of the current administration in managing the issues that are most crucial to them, such as economic policy and job prospects.
• Undecided Voters: In the upcoming elections, the undecided voters represent a Trojan horse because they could switch their vote at the last minute. According to opinion surveys, they make up about 15 percent of the electorate. Consequently, they constitute a significant force if one of the candidates or electoral alliances is able to attract them. Their hesitancy stems from their dissatisfaction with their traditional candidates and parties, but they have yet to decide on their position. According to estimates, the TSA was unable to draw them. The possibility of their votes going to the candidate of the incumbent MP, Muharram Ince, would splinter the opposition vote and increase the likelihood of a runoff, but then they may choose not to vote.
• People Displaced Due to the Earthquake: Official estimates state that more than 3 million people have left southeast Turkey since the earthquakes on February 9. They must either register to vote in their new communities or travel back to their old communities on election day in order to cast a ballot. Even though only 133,000 people registered to vote in other provinces and only 1.2 million survivors were able to return to their home provinces, nearly 2 million people still lack the right to vote. The Turkish government is not serious about helping these voters get to the polls by providing transportation on trains, cars, buses, and planes. Some of them face extortion and threats from civil service officials, who threaten them with losing their rights to public assistance for earthquake victims if they do not register in the areas of displacement. The government and the opposition are both worried about this electoral bloc, despite its relatively small size. The government is concerned that they will vote for the opposition, while the opposition is concerned that the voting lists will include people who are missing but have not officially declared dead, allowing election officials to manipulate the results.
• Naturalized Citizens: Despite their negligible impact on election outcomes, the issue of naturalized citizens has emerged as a topic of electoral debate. The opposition claims the government is using citizenship for immigrants and refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iran to gain an electoral advantage. And while the Ministry of the Interior confirmed in December 2022 that only 126,786 Turkish citizens of Syrian origin have the right to vote, the Vice President of the CHP, Onursal Adiguzil, estimates the total number of naturalized citizens who have the right to vote at 240,000, of which approximately 170,000 are of Syrian origin and the remainder are of Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, or Afghani origin. Since the government permits foreigners to change their Arabic names to Turkish ones, the opposition believes that there are a larger number of Naturalized Citizens than is publicly known. Some claim that the provinces with the highest concentration of Syrian immigrants, like Hatay and Gaziantep, will experience the greatest impact from naturalized citizens during the parliamentary elections. It is likely that these voters will tend to support Erdogan and the AKP due to the opposition parties’ animosity toward immigrants. But not all Syrians will vote for Erdogan, since some care more about economic conditions than political issues, and others might rather not vote for fear of reprisal from the winning party if they vote for the losing one.
• Turkish Diaspora: Turkish diaspora votes are particularly significant despite their low number (3.28 million eligible voters out of 6.5 million, or 5.3 percent of the total voters), as the electoral race has become more intense and the gaps between the leading candidates have become smaller, making each vote more significant. Given that voting machines have been installed in 15 new countries, including Afghanistan, Libya, Nigeria, and Pakistan, the government is placing a significant wager on the Turkish diaspora to decide the elections in Erdogan’s favor. Since their first participation in the 2014 elections, voting trends indicate that the Turkish diaspora has favored Erdogan and the AKP. In the 2018 elections, Erdogan received 59.4 percent of the votes of Turkish citizens living abroad, or approximately 895,000 votes (he won the presidency by a mere 1.3 million votes), demonstrating the weighted nature of these votes. Given their distance from the direct negative effects of the economic crisis and Erdogan’s government’s success in appealing to their national feelings, there are no signs of a significant change in Turkish diaspora preferences. During his recent visit to Austria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu drove the country’s first electric vehicle (TOGG) and announced that it would also be exported to Europe. The opposition was incapable of launching genuine political campaigns to win the support of the Turkish diaspora.
In short, predicting which of the competing parties will win the first round of elections on May 14 is challenging, as evidenced by the preceding electoral scene. It is widely believed that no candidate will receive more than 50 percent + 1 of the vote in the first round of voting, increasing the likelihood of a run-off election on May 28.