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Fading Illusions: Erdoğan’s Unraveling and the Imminent Collapse of Authoritarianism

The facade of Erdoğan’s enduring grip on power shows signs of wear as disillusionment and resistance mount against his iron-fisted rule. In a seemingly victorious moment for President Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey appeared poised for a run-off election following his narrow win over opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the first round of voting on May 14. Meanwhile, the third-place candidate Sinan Oğan’s position was perceived as crucial as his support could influence the outcome of the run-off. However, beneath the veneer of triumph lies an illusional victory for Erdoğan, who did not anticipate Kılıçdaroğlu’s ability to consolidate 45% of the votes, falling short of securing an absolute majority to extend his 20-year rule over Turkey. This article unravels the intricacies of this contested outcome, shedding light on the limitations of his perceived triumph and the underlying challenges that signal a turbulent future for Turkey’s political landscape. Additionally, Kılıçdaroğlu, with his plan for political alliances and strong support base, along with his appeal to democratic values, stands poised to consolidate power in Turkey, which has a strong democratic tradition.

Erdoğan’s Prevalence Challenges the Opposition’s Confidence

As the results of the recent election in Turkey unfolded, it became evident that both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu failed to surpass the crucial 50% threshold required to avoid a second round of voting, scheduled for May 28. This electoral contest, widely regarded as a verdict on Erdoğan’s steadily encroaching authoritarian tendencies, holds significant implications. Beyond determining the country’s leadership, the upcoming presidential vote will shape Turkey’s trajectory, deciding whether it veers towards a more secular and democratic path. Furthermore, it carries the weight of addressing pressing challenges such as the mounting cost of living crisis and managing crucial relationships with Russia, the Middle East, and the West. In this article, we delve into the reasons behind Erdoğan’s faltering grasp on power and explore the pivotal factors that could ultimately lead to his failure in steering Turkey’s future.

In the aftermath of the election results, a stark contrast emerged between the narratives put forth by Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu. Despite falling short of the absolute majority, his performance surpassed initial expectations, leaving him poised in a position of relative strength. Addressing his supporters, Erdoğan exuded confidence and adopted a combative stance, buoyed by a reported lead of 2.5 million votes over his closest rival, as stated during his speech. In contrast, Kılıçdaroğlu urged his supporters to remain patient, raising concerns about interference by the government in the vote counting and reporting process. In the initial round of voting on 14th May, Erdoğan narrowly missed securing an outright victory, achieving 49.52 per cent of the votes. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate from a six-party opposition alliance, obtained 44.88 per cent. These results depict a delicate balance between the two candidates, setting the stage for a tightly contested second round. However, People’s Alliance’s stronger-than-expected showing has cast a shadow of doubt on Kılıçdaroglu’s confidence in prevailing during the run-off. As the election process continues, the coming weeks will prove decisive in shaping Turkey’s future trajectory. The unresolved challenges surrounding the alleged interference in the vote-counting process and the diverging narratives of the candidates contribute to an environment of uncertainty. These factors amplify the significance of the upcoming second round and underscore the underlying dynamics that could ultimately influence Erdoğan’s fate.

Shifting Alliances and Eroding Trust

Consolidating power through the means of traditionalism, nationalism based on religious affiliations, and the criminalization of political opposition with charges of terrorism can create a challenging environment for democracy in any country, including Turkey. These tactics not only stifle dissent and suppress alternative voices but also undermine the principles of pluralism, freedom of expression, and the proper functioning of democratic institutions. Moreover, the economic consequences of such an environment cannot be overlooked. When political power becomes concentrated in the hands of a few, it often leads to a lack of transparency, cronyism, and favoritism, which can hinder economic growth and investment. The suppression of political opposition and dissenting voices can discourage innovation, limit accountability, and ultimately undermine the long-term stability and prosperity of the country.

In addition, recent developments, such as Sinan Oğan’s endorsement of Erdoğan in the run-off election, can negatively impact Erdoğan’s support base. Oğan, who finished third in the initial round of the Turkish presidential election, had previously garnered support from oppositional individuals who were disillusioned with the current government. However, his decision to switch sides and align with AKP for personal gains, as seen through his pursuit of a seat in the government, may undermine the trust and credibility he had previously established. This change of allegiance not only reveals a lack of consistency but also raises questions about opportunism and the integrity of political actors, further eroding public confidence in the political process.

As Turkey moves forward, it is crucial to recognize the detrimental effects of consolidating power through authoritarian tactics, as they can hinder the growth of a robust and inclusive democracy. Protecting the principles of democratic governance, promoting economic openness and accountability, and nurturing a diverse and inclusive political landscape are essential for a sustainable and prosperous future for Turkey and its people. In the complex political landscape of Turkey, the upcoming elections have witnessed the emergence of the Zafer Party as a trendsetter in anti-refugee rhetoric. While anti-Syrian sentiments are not unprecedented in Turkish politics, the instrumentalization of refugees as a key electoral issue is unprecedented. With decreasing public support for Erdoğan and economic instability, the discourse surrounding Syrians has gained significant prominence in electoral debates. Zafer Party, positioning itself as a far-right political party, presents the most assertive refugee policy among the political parties, advocating for the repatriation of Syrians back to their home country.

Interestingly, Oğan’s alliance with the government adds an intriguing dynamic to the political equation. On the same day, Ümit Özdağ, the shadow leader of the alliance supporting Sinan Oğan, who had a meeting with Kılıçdaroğlu, announced that they had reached an agreement. The Zafer Party and Oğan may seek to support the opposition leader by aligning themselves strategically. This collaboration aims to secure a seat at the table regardless of the outcome of the next round, whether it be a victory for Kılıçdaroğlu or for Erdoğan. In this scenario, their alliance becomes significant in both conjunctures. If Kılıçdaroğlu succeeds, their support would strengthen their position within the new government, potentially influencing refugee policy decisions. On the other hand, if Erdoğan emerges victorious, their alliance ensures their presence in the ruling party, allowing them to shape the discourse and have a say in implementing policies.

This intricate web of alliances and strategies highlights the complexity of Turkish politics and the importance of various actors in shaping the political landscape. The convergence of the Zafer Party’s anti-refugee stance and Sinan Oğan’s political manoeuvring creates an alliance that aims to secure their interests and influence, regardless of the election’s outcome. As the election unfolds, the role played by this alliance could have far-reaching implications for the future direction of Turkey’s refugee policies and political dynamics. Furthermore, it is important to note that the consolidation of votes for Oğan was largely due to Muharrem İnce’s withdrawal from the election, rather than a genuine support base, accounting for less than 5.2% of the overall votes. These votes are expected to shift back to Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu due to Oğan’s endorsement of Erdoğan. Additionally, the heightened anxiety resulting from the opposition’s initial expectation of a clear victory in the first round, which had created a sense of ease among the people, is now likely to be reversed, leading to a more tense election atmosphere.

Thus, in the face of challenges posed by power consolidation, suppression of dissent, and the potential economic repercussions, the forthcoming election in Turkey holds the promise of democratic change. The fact that the opposition garnered more than 50 per cent of the votes in the initial round clearly indicates the growing dissatisfaction and desire for a democratic transition among the populace. Thanks to Kılıçdaroğlu’s determination to secure all ballot boxes, addressing concerns of potential fraud, the stage is set for a democratic triumph. Political alliances and the widening support base of the opposition contribute to its strength and resilience. The shifting dynamics of Oğan’s endorsement, while raising questions about opportunism, should not overshadow the broader momentum behind the opposition.

Additionally, in this context, it is worth considering the positive implications for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, given the popularity and public perception of successful opposition figures such as Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş. Kılıçdaroğlu’s political alliances and expanding support base, including his strong support from the areas where HDP is influential, contribute to his strength and potential to consolidate power. Moreover, within the societal context and evolving priorities, Kılıçdaroğlu’s democratic credentials and influential position present a compelling case for his leadership in Turkey’s democratic transformation. Appeals to democratic values and a vision for a more inclusive and pluralistic society resonate with a significant portion of the electorate. This alignment of Kılıçdaroğlu with democratic principles will likely galvanize support and pave the way for a victory in the upcoming election. The democratic aspirations of the Turkish people, coupled with the commitment to safeguard the electoral process, provide a solid foundation for a potential change in leadership. The upcoming election represents an opportunity for Turkey to reclaim its democratic path and address the nation’s pressing challenges. The future of Turkey will be shaped by the powerful force of the people’s collective will as Kılıçdaroğlu rallies the opposition and brings democratic ideals to the forefront.

Anılcan Duymaz
ODTÜ Sosyoloji bölümünden mezun oldu. Türk - Alman Müşterek Yüksek Lisans Programına ODTÜ ve Humboldt Üniversitesinde devam etmekte. Graduated from Sociology at METU. Continuing his higher education at METU and HU Berlin