Erdoğan The Primary Architect Of Turkey’s Weakening Democracy

Turkey’s flawed democracy stands on an ever more fragile precipice. When opposition politician Ekrem İmamoğlu, a proud representative of the Republican People’s Party, was popularly elected mayor of Istanbul back in March 2019, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was immediately worried. The current Turkish president has enjoyed close relations with İmamoğlu over the years, and even helped him launch his own inexorable political career in the city he calls home. But things are different nowadays, ever since İmamoğlu became a threat to Erdoğan’s meagre power.

President Erdoğan forced a new poll upon the Turkish people in light of İmamoğlu’s mayoral election victory, but İmamoğlu, full of charm and charisma, won a landslide victory the second time round, causing him to brandish those who annulled his initial victory as “idiots.” Yet those insults have landed him firmly in hot water. Sentenced to two years in prison for “the affront of public servants,” the Trabzon native has also been handed a ban from political life. Whilst he will expectedly appeal the decision, there is fear that if it’s denied as predicted, İmamoğlu will be barred from running in this year’s presidential elections. The major concern amidst Turkish analysts is that this represents a Putinesque move characterised by the attempt to side-line a candidate who might plausibly have toppled the incumbent Erdoğan.

To say that the potential consequences of such a move would be profound is ultimately an understatement. Not least, Turkey’s population of 86 million people would come even more firmly under the control of Erdoğan’s political ambitions, lying entirely at the behest of his increasingly more autocratic rule. But ramifications would also be prevalent within the realm of international politics, as the wider region of Eurasia and the NATO alliance certainly would not be free from reverberations. Two decades of rule by Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party have sorrily led the nation down an authoritarian path, with the country’s crucial political, economic, and legal institutions having steadfastly become organs of the leader’s tightening power. Whilst Turkey’s despotic backsliding has at times been subtle and without fanfare, barring a well-known political figure from competing in national elections would mark exactly the opposite.

This year’s presidential poll happens to fall in the centenary year of the country’s founding, and so is understandably poignant. Opposition parties are fraught with fear that it represents the final opportunity to unseat Erdoğan through legal and democratic means, as it’s assumed that victory for the current leader will see greater swathes of regimented power, comparably in the mould of Russian President Vladimir Putin. To make matters worse, Erdoğan has stated that the 2023 election will be the last one he will ever stand for, perhaps implying that for future elections, he simply won’t need to. As a result, an alliance of opposition groups and parties have come together, unified by the solitary aim of bringing Erdoğan down.

But the alliance has not yet selected İmamoğlu as their presidential candidate; seemingly reluctant to engage with someone the state deems a criminal. But by refusing to take him in, the opposition plays into the hands of Erdoğan, as without him, their chances of success are drastically reduced. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is the current leader of the opposition alliance, but the 74-year-old critically lacks the vigour and energy a candidate will need to possess to overcome Erdoğan. He often appears wooden, and most importantly is not wholly popular, evidenced by a political career that has never truly got going. Kılıçdaroğlu has contested a multitude of national elections in Turkey, yet he has never been able to achieve a significant breakthrough.

Though all hope is far from lost. İmamoğlu’s controversial sentencing could yet prove a miscalculation of the highest magnitude as it galvanises his own and other opposition parties’ voter base. Last month, the Istanbul mayor held a rally in front of thousands of supporters in the city, alerting many more to the trials and tribulations of holding the present government accountable. The Turkish people are only too aware of where their country might be heading.