Turkey’s Pivotal Elections

Turkey’s intensely contested elections, in which they will choose both a president and a parliament, carries significant implications for Turkey and its future.  For Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has managed to remain in power for 15 years, these elections are crucial.  They represent one of the largest threats to his power since he first came to political prominence in 2003.  Last year, he won a referendum that transformed Turkey from a parliamentary system to an executive presidential system, meaning whoever wins this year’s elections will inherit more significant and substantial powers.  As the polls come to a close, Erdogan is claiming victory for himself based on unofficial results.  If this is indeed the case, Turkey’s future as a country and the future of its politics will be impacted significantly.

The events leading up to the elections and throughout the campaigns have been controversial.  In an article for NBC News, Kristina Jovanovski describes, “violence has marred the run-up to Sunday’s elections.”  From April 26th to June 20th, at least 87 opposition supporters were severely beaten in multiple incidents as reported by the Turkish NGO Human Rights Association.  They reported that an extreme majority of the incidents and clashes with activists were carried out against those who opposed Erdogan’s reelection.  The NGO also reported that last week the violence escalated.  Four people were killed when a candidate of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) visited the mostly Kurdish populated southeast of the country.

Erdogan’s tenure in office has been a controversial period littered with accusations of civil and human rights violations.  In the wake of the 2016 failed military coup against Erdogan and the AKP party, Turkey declared a state of emergency and this has carried on into the 2018 elections.  Human Rights Watch points out that this state of emergency has allowed Erdogan and his government to rule Turkey with minimal parliamentary and judicial oversight.  Human Rights Watch also reports that the government can “place broad restrictions on the right to organize public assemblies and protests” under the state of emergency.

Independent news agencies have been forced to close by the government.  The majority of news in Turkey is now run by the government.  The United Nations Human Rights Office reports that around 160,000 people have been detained since the military coup.  Many of these are scholars, academics, oppositions polticians, journalists, and human rights defenders who have been detained and imprisoned on false charges of terrorism or simply posting grievances of government policies and polticians on social media.

If Recep Tayyip Erdogan were to official win these elections, then it would mean he would be given significant more power and control in Turkey.  In an article published last week by USA Today, many Turkish citizens believe that the President will not lose the election and will certainly not give up his power.  The article, titled Why Turkey elections could be President Tayyip Recep Erdogan’s biggest power grab yet, quoted one many, Omer Yilmaz, saying, “You cannot stop a tsunami, and you cannot stop Erdogan either after he has gathered so much power—he is devastating the country like a tsunami.  He won’t leave power even if he loses.  He will do anything and everything to win.”

The Turkish people are hopeful for a change to their political institution with a significant number choosing to vote for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Muharrem Ince despite those who emphatically believe Erdogan will be reelected.  Turkey’s future will change after these elections and the political overhaul, but we will have to wait to see if it is for the better or for worse.