Elections of the year

author: Darijo Kišiček

Democrats’ eyes are on one place – Turkey

Imprisoned and banned from politics, not many people would have expected Erdogan to win the last five elections. But on Sunday, two decades of authoritarian rule could come to an end. After a decade of successful economic policies in the 2000s for which some say they are a consequence of the previous government, the second decade of Erdogan’s rule was marked by rampant inflation and a sharp decline in living standards. The Corona crisis and the war in Ukraine only added fuel to the fire of the already damaged Turkish economy. In addition, there is the violation of the central bank’s independence through the dismissal of three governors in a short period of time.

At the beginning of the millennium, one dollar was worth a little more than one lira. Two decades later, the dollar to lira ratio is 1:22. According to Social Europe research, in 2012 Turkey’s GDP per capita was $12,000, only a decade later the same indicator is lower  for a third which describes the two different decades of the Turkish economy. Long-term trends, bad economic policies, the rapid change of several bank governors and the appointment of the aforementioned incompetent son-in-law as governor all have led to capital outflows. At the same time, the current president is trying to divert attention from important issues by driving Turkey’s first electric car and sailing on the newly built Turkish aircraft carrier.

It is not just the economy that needs rebuilding in Turkey.

As in other authoritarian systems, Turks have witnessed a systematic violation of the rule of law and media freedom in recent years as Erdogan has consolidated his dominant position. A potential new president will have a big task to rebuild the institution of the rule of law, especially after the controversial law from 2017 that gives the president the power to rule by executive order. Moreover, if the opposition wins on Sunday, there will be a systematic cleansing of the corruption in the coming years. Let’s not forget that Erdogan lost almost all the major cities in the last local elections, giving hope to democrats not only in Turkey but around the world.

One goal for the opposition

The victory of the anti-Erdogan National Alliance, a coalition of six parties (nationalists, conservatives, Islamists and liberals) would mark the end of an era in Turkish politics. Grand coalition led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu would bring Turkey closer to the West, reversing Erdogan’s policy towards Russia. Erdogan’s lost would also be a great victory for the European Union. Brussels would also benefit from stability in the Middle East, as Turkey is the only country separating the EU from the mess in the Middle East.

The removal of the current president would stabilize relations with both the United States and the NATO alliance. Note that Turkey continues to block Sweden’s entry into the NATO alliance. As for Ukraine, however, the opposition still maintains the same position – to continue to help Ukraine, but also to further delay the decision to vote on sanctions against Moscow.

The eyes of the democrats

According to the latest opinion polls, Erdogan is not far behind the opposition. But the current president has a lead in only one of seven regions and polls show that he will lose big cities once again. Rural areas which constitute only 20-30 percent of the electorate might end up very important. A positive thing for the opposition is the withdrawal of Muharrem Ince from the presidential race whose party is not part of the grand opposition. Withdrawal will prevent the division of the electoral body and give more advantage to a big coalition. The question of the Kurds adds an additional factor to the complexity of the elections. The region where there are the most of them is the poorest one, but Kurds silently support the coalition.

If the Turks manage to remove Erdogan on Sunday, it will be a great victory for Turkey, for the West and in the end for democracy. It would be an important victory in the age of authoritarianism. So-called electoral autocracies are more popular than ever. It is to be expected an outcome like the one in Brazil, where the former president refused to recognize the election results. If Erdogan is re-elected, we can expect things will get much worse.