Turkey’s Democratic Resilience
Many are skeptical that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will lose the upcoming election, or that he will allow the opposition to win. But such “realism” misses a key point: the closeness of the race attests to the opposition bloc’s refusal to abandon hope in democracy, even after 20 years of authoritarian rule.
CAMBRIDGE – Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14 have been called the most important of the year. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is trailing in polls behind his main opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who is backed by a broad opposition alliance. If Erdoğan is defeated, the elections will have global significance, demonstrating that the erosion of democracies worldwide in recent years can be reversed – and that even firmly entrenched strongmen can be shown the door.
While other leaders cut from the same cloth, including former US President Donald Trump and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, have also lost elections in recent years, the Turkish opposition faces a tougher task. The country’s slide towards full-blown authoritarianism is nearly complete. Erdoğan has been in power for more than 20 years – much longer than either Trump or Bolsonaro was – and has used this time to shape the state in his own image.
Erdoğan formally or informally controls all of Turkey’s political institutions, further centralizing an already-centralized state. There are hardly any checks on his executive presidency: the parliament is a rubber stamp, and the judiciary answers to him. The military is defanged; the police are loyal. His alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) means that he has a semi-organized civil militia at his disposal (the opposition suspects that such a group was involved in the stoning of Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu and his supporters at a campaign rally in Erzurum last Sunday). A nationwide network of cronies and political appointees feed on the regime’s corruption, with much to lose if Kılıçdaroğlu wins.
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