2023 Turkish Elections: 5 More Years of Erdogan?

Held on 7 March, 2023


Dr Ahmet Erdi Öztürk | Dr Öztürk is an associate professor of politics and international relations at London Metropolitan University, and a Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at Coventry University in the UK and GIGA in Germany (2021-2023).

Güney Yildiz Güney Yildiz is a London-based researcher and journalist. He specialises in Turkey, Syria, and the Kurds in the Middle East, and is currently undertaking a PhD at Cambridge focusing on non-state actors in the region.

Simon WaldmanSimon A. Waldman is a visiting research fellow at King’s College London, where he was previously a lecturer in Middle Eastern studies.



“This will be a very long two and a half months.”

The panel began the event by presenting tentative predictions for the upcoming elections. Simon Waldman began the discussion by declaring that, in his opinion, it is unlikely that the opposition is going to make significant gains in the forthcoming elections. He notes that whilst it is possible that the opposition could win one institution, namely parliament, in order to make significant changes in Turkey one needs to win both institutions. He explains that if the opposition were to win in the parliamentary institution, Erdogan would lock parliamentary decisions through his presidential power. In candour, Waldman confessed that he believes that the most likely outcome is that Erdogan will win both institutions.

Dr. Ozturk presented a more optimistic stance. In his eyes, we could expect anything from the two sides in the upcoming months, and the outcome is still up in the air. He notes that both sides will be working mercilessly to retain or gain power. Dr. Ozturk also stated that these elections can be considered the only time Erdogan can be defeated in an election, and are perhaps the “last hope for a modern Turkey”.

The Earthquake

“Geological and political fault lines are very active simultaneously, and both are interrelated.”

The speakers noted that February’s earthquake, which caused wide-spread destruction across Southern Turkey and Northern Syria, would have important consequences on the upcoming election. Although the speakers disagreed on the extent to which this would “translate into a political earthquake”, the panel concurred that the discourse projected by both groups in the coming months of the elections would likely be dominated by the earthquake.

Guney Yildiz engaged in a detailed analysis of the specific failures of Erdogan’s government in the fallout of the earthquake. Dividing these shortcomings into three key categories, he identified inflexible planning, poor coordination and an overly politicised response as the key factors which have hindered the success of aid and recovery in the aftermath of the disaster. However, the reality of these failures are being masked by the government through specific media discourses.

Simon Waldman extrapolated upon how the fallout from the earthquake is being depicted by each side. He noted that whilst the government has presented the earthquake as a disaster which would be impossible for any government to cope with, the opposition has criticised the government’s handling of the disaster to undermine its authority and efficiency in the eyes of voters. However, Waldman believes it to be unlikely that this discourse war will translate into less votes for the AKP, citing post-earthquake polls to show that the government retains majority support from the public. Drawing on comparisons with the 1999 Turkish earthquake, which resulted in a change of government in 2002, Waldman identifies the more centralised nature of the current government, stating that the state’s monopoly on media and information channels will prevent the opposition’s discourse from succeeding in shifting the public narrative this time.

Looking toward how the earthquake could impact the smooth-running of the May elections, the speakers suggested that although the elections would go ahead for the majority of the nation, the state of emergency in Southeast Turkey could be extended to cover the electoral period. If this were to occur, the panel brought into question the extent to which these elections would be free given the context.

The Transition of Power and the Democratic Process

“This will be an election which for the most part will be free but certainly unfair.”

The question of ‘free elections’ brought the speakers onto the topic of the democratic process in Turkey, and how a transition of power would occur if the opposition successfully ousted Erdogan in the polls. The panel concurred that, should the opposition win, the democratic process would be honoured relatively unhindered. Dr. Guney assured the audience that the government would be forced to concede to the democratic process, and would be unable to fight it.

However, whilst the panel agreed that the opposition could successfully attain power in this instance, the opposition’s ability to enact substantial economic and political changes was brought into question. Waldman suggested that the ideological disparity within the opposition coalition would prevent them from being able to implement and facilitate a positive change. Dr. Ozturk agreed, instead identifying the state of Turkey’s institutions as the reason for this obstacle. He declared that, in their current state, Turkey’s institutions are not capable of acting, and that there would be an unavoidable and painful restoration period for Turkey in the coming years, a burden which the newly elected government would be forced to bear.

Ultimately, whilst the panel varied in their optimism of an alternative outcome, the general consensus was that Erdogan’s rule is likely to continue within the current structure of a competitive authoritarian regime. Whilst the upcoming elections will be a democratic process, by nature of the political structure which favours the current authoritarian ruler, the best we can hope for is a peaceful but unfair election process.

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