Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing the toughest political challenge of his 20-year rule as he prepares for the presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. The vote could determine not only his personal fate but also the future direction of Turkey, a key NATO ally and regional power.
Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since becoming prime minister in 2003 and president in 2014, is seeking a third term as head of state under a new executive presidential system that he pushed through a controversial referendum in 2017. The system grants him sweeping powers to appoint ministers, judges, and senior officials, dissolve parliament, declare states of emergency, and issue decrees.
However, Erdogan’s popularity has been eroded by a series of economic and social problems, including high inflation, unemployment, poverty, corruption, human rights violations, and diplomatic isolation. His authoritarian style and Islamist agenda have also alienated many secular and liberal Turks who accuse him of undermining the country’s democratic institutions and secular traditions.
Erdogan’s main rival in the presidential race is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), who has managed to unite a diverse coalition of parties under the banner of the Nation Alliance. The alliance includes social democrats, nationalists, conservatives, and Islamists who share a common goal of restoring democracy, rule of law, and human rights in Turkey.
Kilicdaroglu has also gained support from some prominent figures who have defected from Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), such as former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan. Both have formed their own parties and joined the Nation Alliance, criticizing Erdogan’s policies and performance.
According to recent polls, Kilicdaroglu has a slight edge over Erdogan in a potential runoff vote, which would take place if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes in the first round. The polls also suggest that the Nation Alliance could win a majority in parliament, which would limit Erdogan’s powers even if he wins the presidency.
However, Erdogan still has some advantages that could help him secure another victory. He controls most of the media and state institutions, which he uses to promote his achievements and discredit his opponents. He also has a loyal base of supporters among religious and conservative voters who see him as a champion of their values and interests.
Moreover, Erdogan has launched a massive spending spree to boost his popularity ahead of the vote. He has announced various social welfare programs, subsidies, tax cuts, and infrastructure projects to ease the economic hardship faced by many Turks. He has also vowed to fight against terrorism, defend Turkey’s sovereignty, and restore its regional influence.
The outcome of the elections will have significant implications for Turkey’s domestic and foreign policy. If Erdogan wins another term, he will likely continue his authoritarian and Islamist agenda, which could further polarize the society and strain relations with Western allies. If Kilicdaroglu wins, he will face the daunting task of reversing Erdogan’s legacy and restoring Turkey’s democracy and stability.