The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, regularly analyzes developments in the Middle East, the Balkans and around the world. On the occasion of the recent developments in Türkiye and the upcoming marking of the 100th anniversary of establishment of the country, IFIMES made an extensive analysis. We bring the most important and interesting parts of the extensive analysis titled “2023 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Türkiye: Will Türkiye Organize Early Presidential and Parliamentary Elections?”
Turkish officials, headed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, assure the public that there will be no early elections and that the elections will be organized as planned in June 2023. Furthermore, the Turkish Minister of Justice Bekir Bozdağ stated on 19 August 2022 that the presidential and parliamentary elections will be held as envisaged by the Turkish Constitution, that is on 18 June 2023. In Türkiye, there are suspicions that Erdoğan could surprise the opposition and call early general and presidential elections.
In Türkiye, the ruling Party of Justice and Development (AKP) and opposition parties increasingly often engage in political and legal debates regarding the possible Erdoğan's candidacy at the upcoming presidential elections. The opposition holds that President Erdoğan cannot run for another terms in office, as it would be his third consecutive term in office, because he had already served two terms as the president. The first one from August 2014 to June 2018, and his second and current term started in June 2018 and should end in June 2023. The Turkish Constitution does not allow for the same person to serve more than two consecutive terms as the president, whereas one term lasts five years. The opposition asserts that Erdoğan's chance to run for the third presidential term depends on organization of early elections, as he could not run for a third term if regular elections are organized.
On the other side, the Party of Justice and Development (AKP) submits that Erdoğan is eligible to run for a new presidential term on the basis of the fact that the referendum on constitutional amendments, which provided for a shift to the presidential system, was held on 16 April 2017. Namely, according to the new system Erdoğan won his first presidential term on 24 June 2018, and can run for a new and second presidential term at the upcoming elections in June 2023.
In order to circumvent this legal controversy, Ali İhsan Yavuz, AKP Deputy Chairman for Election Affairs proposed activation of Article 116 of the Constitution which regulates “If the Grand Assembly of the Republic of Türkiye (Parliament) adopts a decision on early elections during the second term of the President of the Republic, Erdoğan may once again be a presidential candidate,” which means that if early presidential elections are organized, Erdoğan can run for his third consecutive presidential term.
According to the amendments adopted at the referendum in 2017, both the president and the parliament can call early elections. The legislation includes a “double-lock” clause according to which the president and all 600 representatives of the Grand National Assembly of Türkiye are to be elected on the same day. The presidential and general elections are to be held simultaneously, that is cannot be held separately. Furthermore, according to the Constitution the President can call elections by a presidential decree.
The Turkish parliament, which consists of 600 representatives, may decide to hold early elections by a three-fifths majority of the total number of its members. Specifically, 360 members. Currently, neither the government nor the opposition have a sufficient number of members to adopt such a decision.
There are deep disagreements among opposition parties regarding the candidate that would confront Erdoğan at the upcoming presidential elections. The opposition block named “Table of Six”– “Altili Masa”, consists of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), nationalist party İYİ /The Good Party/, Islamist party Saadet /The Felicity/, (Erdoğan used to be a member of the party), Democratic Party (DP), and two parties established by former AKP veterans. Specifically, Gelecek – (The Future), established by former Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu and the DEVA /Remedy/ Party, established by former Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Babacan. While the CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu aspires to be the presidential candidate on behalf of the “Table of Six” coalition, some coalition parties reject such an option. Namely, they believe that because of his secular orientation and affiliations with the Alevi community, his nomination would mean loss of votes of a large number of conservative Islamic voters, who would not vote for him. Kılıçdaroğlu lacks charisma and political results, which are some of the most prominent advantages of Erdoğan. As an opposition leader since 2010 he never won against Erdoğan and the AKP at any of the elections held so far - starting from 2010, 2011, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 elections. Nomination of Kılıçdaroğlu as an eternal loser would be a major service to Erdoğan.
In early September 2022, Ali Babacan, an opposition leader from the Party of Democracy and Progress, stated that if the “Table of Six” parties do not agree on a joint presidential candidate, then each party shall nominate its leader as the presidential candidate. In other words, the opposition would have six presidential candidates, which once again would play into the hands of Erdoğan.
While there are ample factors that can incite President Erdoğan to decide to call early elections, there are also obstacles that can prevent that from happening. The most important include the fact that the modifications of the election law adopted by the Parliament in March 2022 have still not entered into force. The amendments were proposed by the AKP party and its coalition party MHP to increase the chances of the MHP at the upcoming parliamentary elections. Namely, the MHP currently has 48 of 600 mandates in the parliament and while lowering of the election threshold from 10% to 7% would increase the chances of the MHP to be a parliamentary party again, it would simultaneously create an opportunity for other opposition parties to become parliamentary parties. This was the main request of the party of national movement MHP. Specifically, it has recorded a drop in its popularity, which created concerns that it would not become a parliamentary party and that, as a result, the AKP would be left without a coalition partner required for establishment of the future government.
Another obstacle is the drop in popularity of the ruling AKP party. Namely, while majority of public opinion polls indicate that the Party of Justice and Development (AKP) would win at the next parliamentary elections and have a majority in the parliament, the polls also indicate that it would win from 33% to 35% of votes. However, such percentages indicate a drop-in support of the ruling AKP party, as at the last parliamentary elections, which were held in June 2018, the party had won 42.6% of the votes.
In majority of public opinion polls President Erdoğan is still in lead with 40%. He is followed by Mansur Yavaş, Ankara Mayor and member of the opposition CHP party, Meral Akşener, leader of İYİ – The Good Party and Ekrem İmamoğlu, Istanbul Mayor and member of the CHP party. However, majority of polls also indicate that Erdoğan will not be able to win in the first round of elections and will not have the absolute majority of the votes, as was the case at the 2014 elections (51.79% of votes) and 2018 (52.59% of votes), which means that he would have to go through the second round of elections against an opposition candidate.
Finally, the date of early elections in Türkiye will depend on the assessment of the internal political and economic situation by President Erdoğan and the ruling AKP party, as well as the expectation of the government regarding improvements in the area of economy by the end of this year.
Analysts believe it is rather unlikely that the opposition parties will manage to broker, in a timely manner, an agreement on a joint presidential candidate of the opposition who would run at the presidential elections against Erdoğan. Hence, it is likely that Erdoğan could surprise the opposition parties and call early elections.
Turkish intellectuals are aware of the scale of political, cultural and historical divisions in the Turkish society. This reality is a major challenge for the future of Türkiye, because victory of any option would mean not just a change in government, but also movement of the country towards a more uncertain future. In other words, democratic process opens the door to the unknown, not to a better future.
Faced with the serious economic situation and elections, which are exceptionally important for his political future, Turkish President Erdoğan is aware of this reality and the increasing strength of the opposition due to the economic crisis, which has drained all layers of the Turkish society and particularly the middle class.
The opposition is faced with a major challenge regarding nomination of its candidate, which seems as a mission impossible because of their internal disagreements. Within the opposition there is no unity regarding the burning economic and political issues. Their only goal is to remove Erdoğan from power. As they have no clear program or formula how to address the economic crisis, the voters will predominantly vote in favor of continuity, rather than for a broad coalition. Türkiye has quite bad experience with broad coalitions, which had brought the state to the brink of bankruptcy several times in the past.
The problem of the opposition is that it is made of four elements. Specifically, the Islamist, the secularist, the nationalist and the Kurdish, which naturally have contradictory political orientations and will hardly unite on a single platform. In fact, even if they unite they will not be able to develop a joint program that would address the existing problems in the society, save the economy or deal with foreign policy in very complex international relations.
The leaders of Islamist parties which derived from the AKP, headed by Ahmet Davutoğlu, former prime minister, and Ali Babacan, former finance minister, as well as the leadership of the Saadat party, which cultivates and promotes the policy of Islamist thinker and politician Necmettin Erbakan, understand that their electorate would not support any of the candidates nominated by the liberals, nationalists or secularists, nor give preference to any opposition candidate who is not an Islamist like Erdoğan. They have already announced that in the second round of elections they would vote for President Erdoğan. On the basis of these facts, neither the Republican People’s Party CHP nor other opposition parties are able to individually defeat Erdoğan, just as they are not able to unite and develop a common program and nominate one joint candidate with leadership capabilities who can run against Erdoğan.
A point of concern for the opposition is that Erdoğan not just controls the state apparatus, but can produce individual political crises, such as the escalation of relations with Greece, transform the dispute over the islands and the Eastern Mediterranean into a national issue related to the security of the homeland of Türkiye, start a new war against the terrorist PKK organization in North Syria or escalate the dispute with NATO regarding the accession of Sweden and Finland for the purposes of winning concessions, which he would they use in the election campaign. The opposition is also concerned about the possible use of such crises, as they would be of populist nature in which enthusiasm and patriotism among citizens would be elevated, while the opposition would have to support and not be against the government on such issues, as it would perceived by its electorate as an act of treason.
An aspect being analyzed in all discussions regarding the upcoming elections in Türkiye is the influence of Kurdish voters. It is assessed that in Türkiye, Kurds make around 15% of the 84 million population. According to the elections equation, Kurdish votes will determine the final outcome of elections, particularly the presidential election.
Voters of Kurdish descent, just like voters of Turkish descent, are divided into different intellectual and political options. Some of them are nationalists and left-wing oriented, while others are liberals, democrats, conservatives or Islamists. Although the People’s Democratic Party (HDP) was the leading party at elections in majority of predominantly Kurdish provinces, the share of votes won by other parties from voters of Kurdish descent is not negligible. Namely, voters of Kurdish descent also gave their votes to, inter alia, Kurdish representatives and politicians who are members of the Party of Justice and Development (AKP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Kurdish nationalists do not vote for the Nationalist Movement party (MHP), just like Turkish nationalists do not vote for the People’s Democratic Party (HDP). Nevertheless, it cannot be said that all Kurds do not vote for MHP or that all Turks do not vote for the HDP. Specifically, there are Kurdish voters who vote for MHP, just like among Turkish voters some vote for HDP- truth be told in small percentages.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is an outcome of the alliance of Turkish far-left parties and Kurdish nationalists. However, there are concerns on the part of Kurdish voters, who are traditionally conservative, that ultra-left Turks would have control over the party (HDP). Some of them believe that the Kurds have been used by the HDP, and that the party had lost its “Kurdish identity”.
Citizens of Kurdish origin, just like citizens of Turkish origin, do not vote just on the basis of their political or ideological affiliations. At the upcoming elections, the Kurdish voters, just like other Turkish citizens, will vote for continuation of investments, development projects, security and stability –far away from ethnic and partisan divisions by the opposition.
The Kurdish issue is the most disputable issue that Türkiye has faced since the establishment of the Republic in 1923. The goal of the founding fathers of the modern Türkiye was establishment of a national state similar to the European ones. They attempted to create a nation based on equal citizens and common identity on the principles of secularism and sovereignty. Nevertheless, all citizens living within the Turkish borders were identified as Turks, and ethnic minorities were expected to embrace the “Turkish” identity as the common identity. However, things did not develop fully as planned, which created numerous complications in the subsequent years.
Since its inception and all until 2002, the problems of Türkiye were closely related to the role of the military in the political life. Before AKP came to power, Turkish democracy was under the oversight of the military and judicial bodies. They gave themselves the right to restrict democratic standards and civic freedoms, all in the name of political stability and social transformation. The military believed that democracy can lead to an unstable and regressive (Islamist) regime. In Türkiye, through the National Security Council, the military had a monopoly over identification of national security issues and dictated the political, economic and social decisions to every government.
At the last several elections, almost half of Kurdish voters voted in favor of the ruling AKP party, because since 2002 Erdoğan has been the only leader of modern Türkiye who has committed to resolution of ethnic minority issues and investment of major efforts and resources in development of the south-east part of the country, despite the destructive role of the pro-Kurdish (HDP) elements and Turkish nationalists (MHP and CHP).
From mid- nineteenth century until its dissolution in 1922, the West referred to the Ottoman Empire as the “sick man /of Europe/” because of a series of defeats, losses of large parts of its territory spreading over three continents and ultimately the defeat in World War I. Such a reference is a reflection of the perception which has lingered on for quite some time and also applied to its successor- the Republic of Türkiye, which was established on 29 October 1923. This was a result of a series of military coup d’états from 1960, 1962, 1980 and 2016, as well as the four military memorandums with which the military threatened the civil authorities in 1971, 1979, 1997 and 2007.
The arrival of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to power as the Turkish Prime Minister on 13 March 2003 marked the beginning of normalization of civil-military relations. The influence of the military on the political life decreased and Türkiye begun its political and economic progress, as well as it road to a modern democracy aspiring to become a member of the European Union (EU).
Modern Türkiye has moved a long way from such a perception and become a strong state and a regional power, as well as an important actor on the geopolitical map of the world. Specifically, in the Mediterranean region, Caucasus, Middle East, Africa but also through balanced relations with major powers such as the US, Russia and China.
Türkiye has become a focus of research in the US, European, Chinese, Russian or Asian research centers. The interest in its important role is based on two main factors:
● Primarily because after World War I and World War II, the Republic of Türkiye managed to stop being referred to as “the sick man” and then “the unwanted”. The West managed it through marginalization, which sometimes boiled down to contempt because of its non-western origins. As a result, its admission to the EU was slowed down. Namely, Türkiye has been waiting to become a full-fledged member since 1959. Since the establishment of the modern Republic in 1923, Türkiye has been trying to join the West. Since mid-twentieth century Turkish intellectuals worked on formulation of intellectual and political proposals in an attempt to outline the connections between their country and the West. They underlined, inter alia, that Homer, perceived to be one of the pioneers of western culture, was of Turkish descent, that Anatolia is nothing less important than Greece and that Türkiye is a large country that provides security and protection to the West through its membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
In late twentieth century Türkiye became aware that its aspirations to be a strong state could not be implemented through “courtship of the West”, and that it should use its geostrategic position as the bridge among three continents. This perception become very prominent after the arrival of the AKP to power in 20o2.
● Secondly, Türkiye has outlined an ambitious plan for its activities in international relations, which is demonstrated primarily through independence of its political decisions from the West despite its membership in the NATO Alliance. Türkiye also used the mechanisms based on its economic growth and the defense industry, which had significantly developed in the past two decades. In practice, the economic growth created opportunities for development and major investments, as well as assistance to Third World countries, as a result of which Türkiye gained significant influence and popularity in the Balkans, Middle East and Africa. The Turkish defense industry increased its footprint through sale of weapons without any specific political blackmailing, unlike the US and some Western countries.
Over the past few years Türkiye contributed to the drawing of geopolitical maps in several regions, predominantly the Mediterranean. Turkish intervention in the second Libyan civil war in January 2020 and the “unblocking” of Tripoli as its capital, where the internationally recognized government of Libya is seated, obstructed the Egyptian-French-Emirates scenario which was devised for Libya to the extent that it forced Paris to largely withdraw from the Libyan war. Namely, France used the Arab Spring to try to monopolize Libyan oil and even considered dividing Libya into two parts - East and West Libya.
Thanks to the investments it made, the influence of Türkiye has expanded to other countries as well. Namely, Türkiye has significantly strengthened its influence in the Mediterranean area and some African countries. It has become the third country, right after US and China, that has constrained the influence of France in Africa in the past three decades. During his visit to Algeria in August 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron said that his goal was to strengthen the presence of France in Africa in response to the increased influence of Russia and Türkiye. Furthermore, Türkiye has become a key factor also in the Caucasus, after the strong military support it provided to Azerbaijan in regaining the Nagorno-Karabakh region in the war with Armenia in 2020.
A turning point for the geopolitical position of Türkiye in the modern world is its key role in the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine after the breakout of war, as it facilitated the agreement on export of grain to Third World countries in 2022. Analysts believe that a peace agreement between Russia and Ukraine is inconceivable without an active role of Türkiye. Türkiye is no longer a “sick man”, nor is it any longer “unwanted” for the West, in fact, in the past two decades it has become a regional force and a favorite of both the East and the West.
Ljubljana/Washington/Brussels,21 December 2022
 IFIMES – The International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES) from Ljubljana, Slovenia, has a special consultative status with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC)/UN since 2018.
 Source: Constitution of the Republic of Türkiye, link: https://www5.tbmm.gov.tr/yayinlar/2021/TC_Anayasasi_ve_TBMM_Ic_Tuzugu_Ingilizce.pdf
 The Ottoman Empire was de facto abolished on 1 November 1922 and de jure by a peace treaty signed on 24 July 1923 in Lausanne. Its successor is the Republic of Türkiye, which was officially established on 29 October 1923.
 Source: End of Tripoli siege, link: www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/26/libyan-standoff-risks-dragging-egyptian-military-into-regions-cold-war
 Source: French president warns African youths of 'immense manipulation' by Turkey, Russia and China during visit to Algeria, link: www.middleeasteye.net/news/turkey-condemns-emmanuel-macron-anti-france-propaganda-algeria