The upcoming snap presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey are historical because with these elections presidential system will officially commence in Turkey.
Many international observers and some Turkish commentators argue that these elections are just a formality as the winner is obvious.
Some argue that President Erdoğan does not lose, reminding us of Gary Lineker’s quote which goes “Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.” Others argue that the opposition in Turkey is too fragmented, too weak and do not even have a strategy and can never win. There are those who argue that the election will take place in a highly uneven playing field and the opposition will not even get a chance to get their message across to the voters. Then, there are those who argue that what comes out of the ballot box will not necessarily be a reflection of what goes in. Finally, some even argue that President Erdoğan will not leave the office even if he loses.
Some of these arguments do have merit: Yes, President Erdoğan has an excellent track record of winning elections and the opposition parties in Turkey have excelled in losing. Yes, President Erdoğan has a consolidated voter base while the opposition voters are made up of Turkish and Kurdish nationalists, ultra-seculars and hardcore Islamists who do not necessarily look eye to eye on most issues. Yes, there is a highly uneven playing field with the incumbent not shy in using executive power and public resources in elections and controlling an overwhelming part of the media. It is also true that the recent election law makes election monitoring more difficult though not impossible.
Yet, while the upcoming elections in Turkey will be unfair, they will be real and they will be very competitive. For the first time in a long while the opposition parties have overcome their fragmentedness. While they were not able to unite around one candidate for the presidential election, they have publicly committed to supporting whichever of the opposition candidates makes it to the second round. The candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) seems to have a higher chance of making it to the second round together with President Erdoğan and he has so far performed well in terms of reaching out to beyond the CHP supporters. Four opposition parties, social democratic Republican People’s Party, nationalist Good Party (İYİParty), Islamist Felicity Party (SP) and center right Democrat Party (DP) have also formed a formal election alliance, which will not only have an impact on the seat distribution in the parliament, but also make it easier to cooperate in the second round of the presidential election, assuming there is a second round. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democracy Party was excluded from the opposition alliance as it still has a legitimacy problem vis-à-vis voters of the other parties, but are also committed to supporting Muharrem İnce in the second round, assuming there is a second round and Muharrem İnce makes it there.
There is no doubt that President Erdoğan is the strongest candidate in the upcoming presidential election not only because the playing ground is uneven, but also because of his consolidated voter base and alliance with the Nationalist Action Party (MHP). The dominant scenario is Erdoğan winning the presidency in the second round and the AKP-MHP block gaining majority of seats in the parliament. However, this dominant scenario to be materialized is far from certain and the Turkish political system is still open to change through elections.