Turkey

Last update: 1 month ago

Erdoğan is the president of Turkey since his electoral win in 2014. On 1 November 2015, the ruling AK Party won the snap parliamentary elections in a landslide victory, establishing a majority in parliament and a single-party rule. After the failed coup d’état on the 15 July 2016 by a part of the Turkish military and subsequent state of emergency, a referendum on 16 April 2017 intended to transfer power from parliament and ministries to the president was accepted by a narrow margin. enabled the president to appoint and fire ministers and top state officials, control the budget, issue decrees, and unilaterally declare a state of emergency. Parliamentary elections are now held every five years, instead of four, at the same time as the presidential elections. Furthermore, the office of prime minister disappeared and parliament lost its right of interpellation.

Bolstered by the result of this referendum, Turkey under Erdoğan has entered the transition to an increasingly authoritarian state. As part of his policies, opposition parties and critical journalists are marginalised, and pressure on human rights and civil liberties increased. Turkey's prospects of eventually joining the European Union have practically vanished due to Erdoğan's neglect of democratic values.Elections planned for 2019 were held early in 2018, a move that critics view as a political strategy of survival, to secure absolute power. Though the elections are still decisive, and they are generally reasonably fair, critics have no doubt that Erdoğan will do everything in his power to stay in charge, leaving Turkey a de facto autocracy. In this powerplay, the eyes are set on 18 June 2023, when parliamentary and presidential elections will be organised. The country's opposition already formed an united bloc in their bid to topple Erdoğan and his AK Party.

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Map of Turkey

Short facts

Population:
85,042,736 (World Bank 2021)
Governmental Type:
Republican parliamentary democracy
Ruling Coalition:
One ruling party - AKP
Last Elections:
31 March 2018 (Local)
Next Elections:
18 June 2023 (General)
Sister Parties:
Republican People's Party (CHP)
Image of Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President

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Political Situation

Straddling the continents of Europe and Asia, Turkey's strategically important location has given it major influence in the region and control over the entrance to the Black Sea. Turkey's progress towards democracy and a market economy was halted in the decades following the death of President Ataturk in 1938. The army saw itself as the guarantor of the constitution and ousted governments on a number of occasions when perceived to challenge secular values.

Since then, the AK Party has gained control over the government, and is now the largest party in Turkey with President Erdoğan at the front. Together with the MHP, their allied far-right party, it enjoys a parliamentary majority and can therefore consolidate authoritarian rule, passing rushed legislation, and side-lining opposition parties. The government has reshaped public and state institutions and is effectively removing checks and balances of power. Nevertheless, the opposition parties, though they are strictly opposed by Erdoğan, maintain a limited amount of power, particularly in cities such as Istanbul and Ankara.

Economic crisis

Turkey is currently in a currency and debt crisis, which began in 2018 due to the excessive current account deficit and significant amounts of private foreign currency debt in the Turkish economy. Erdoğan's authoritarian leadership and unorthodox approach to interest rate policy are exacerbating the economic crisis. While the policy of low interest rates at the beginning of Erdoğan's election served as a catalyst for generating growth in Turkey's emerging market economy, it now created high levels of debt and lending. Instead of raising interest rates, which is the conventional approach to rising inflation, Erdoğan decided to lower them. Turkey's central bank resistance to this policy led to the resignation of several bank officials. 

During 2021, Erdoğan has come under increased pressure over socio-economic problems in Turkey. Many Turkish citizens are in socio-economic difficulties due to skyrocketing inflation in the country and took to the streets of Istanbul late 2021 to protest against the financial turmoil in Turkey. Unemployment rose to fourteen percent in 2021, up from ten percent in 2016. Meanwhile, the Turkish lira has lost 44% of its value in 2021 alone. Erdoğan refuses to implement inflation-curbing measures, as this will possibly be unpopular towards 2023 elections. The AK Party’s popularity declined due to the economic crisis, which resulted in the parties monumental losses in 2019 local elections in Istanbul and Ankara

Mending foreign relations

Turkey and the EU established relations in 1959 and formalised these in the 1963 Ankara Agreement. However, the accession negotiations have been stalled since 2016 amid EU accusations and criticism on Turkish human rights violations. The course of events in Turkey have drifted the country further away from EU accession. Since the European parliament committee voted to suspend accession talks with Turkey in 2019,  there is little perspective for Turkish inclusion in the EU in the near future. In April 2022 relations between Europe and Turkey further deteriorated as human rights activist and philanthropist Osman Kavala has been sentenced to life in prison for his role in anti-government protests. The case raises enormous concerns over the independence of Turkish courts  damaged Turkey’s relations with Western countries and civil society organisations further – as the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) commenced an infringement procedure against Turkey. Since 2019, Ankara has refused to abide by various ECHR rulings, and Erdoğan has said he is not planning to do so in the future.

As a member of NATO, Turkey controversially threatened to block Sweden's and Finland's NATO accession after Russia invaded Ukraine. After an agreement was reached at the end of June to support the memberships, but ongoing negotiations are hampered by accusations from the Turkish side hinting at a new membership blockade. Turkey is using the agreement to curb Swedish support for Kurdish groups, which Ankara has classified as terrorist organisations

Amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine, President Erdoğan has been very vocal in centring Turkey as a centre-stage of diplomacy. Shortly after the invasion, he had invited Russian FM Lavrov and his Ukrainian counterpart Kuleba to the 'Antalya Diplomatic Forum', where they held much-anticipated talks. However, these remained fruitless as Russia did not cease military actions towards Ukraine. Nevertheless, Turkey remains open to hosting new negotiations between Ukraine and Russia, with Erdoğan positioning himself as a mediator in the conflict. For instance, Turkish diplomacy was one of the key contributors to the conclusion of the grain agreement that will allow Ukraine to export grain from its ports during the war. Turkey continues to maintain ties with both sides in the conflict. Erdoğan has expressed support for Ukrainian sovereignty, including returning Crimea to Ukraine. At the same time, the Turkish government refuses to join the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia and is tightening financial bonds with the Kremlin, such as a new energy cooperation.

Turkey also mended ties with various regional countries, as Erdoğan tries to boost his legitimacy towards 2023 elections and wishes to increase economic ties to improve on Turkey's economic problems. In 2022 alone, Turkey has mended ties with various regional foes, such as Israel, the UAE and Saudi Arabia. The thawing of relations with Saudi Arabia is salient. In 2018, these countries were fiercely opposed after the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Turkey. Furthermore, Turkey opened diplomatic talks with its neighbour Armenia - and decided to resume flights between its capitals and open the border between the countries. This has been a major breakthrough after years of animosity over various cultural, historical and commercial issues between Yerevan and Ankara.

Towards 2023 elections

The Turkish general election will take place on the 18 June 2023. The main themes affecting these elections are the deepening economic crisis, dissatisfaction with the situation of the Syrian refugees in Turkey who cannot return home and the growing alienation of liberal and democratic-minded Turkish youth from the increasingly conservative and authoritarian government regime. The situation regarding Syrian refugees is part of an EU-Turkey migration deal, in which both parties agreed that Turkey would take any measures to prohibit irregular migration from Turkey to Greek islands and enabled the EU to send anyone arriving irregularly back to Turkey. In exchange, Turkey would be granted 6 billion euro by the EU in humanitarian aid for improvement of the refugee situation in the country and Turkish nationals would be granted visa-free travel to Europe.

Erdoğan already declared that he will run for another term as president of Turkey as the joint candidate of the current coalition between AK Party and MHP. The popularity of the MHP has steadily declined, and might prove a less valuable partner in the alliance as previously was the case. Their alliance, known as the People’s Alliance, will face difficulties to retain a parliamentary majority, especially as the opposition formed a second bloc in February 2022. This opposition alliance, known as the Table of Six, consists of Republican People’s Party (CHP), Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), Democrat Party (DP), Future Party (FP), IYI (Good) Party and Felicity Party (SP). Their alliance is mainly unified through hostility towards Erdoğan and the aim to return democracy in Turkey, despite the ideological diversity among the opposition parties. The opposition parties are considered to stand a chance against the People’s Alliance, especially as voters from the MHP and AK Party seem to switch to the Good Party, which is a breakaway fraction of the MHP.  

The People's Democratic Party (HDP) is notably absent from the Table of Six. The party was important in opposition wins at the 2019 local elections but is now deemed as too divisive to have role inside the oppositional bloc However, HDP forms a third bloc together with five more Kurdish and leftist parties that carry little political weight. This last bloc is called the Labour and Freedom Alliance. The closer the elections approach, the more clear the expectations become. More than eight months before the elections, Turkey's economic and socio-political landscape could still undergo many shifts. With tightened media laws, for instance, Erdoğan seems to be pulling out all the stops to prevent an opposition victory. In addition, it remains to be seen whether the opposition bloc will hold, as several disputes between them could potentially cause a premature split within the alliance. For instance, the Good Party and the CHP disagree among themselves on the presidential candidate to be nominated.

Political rights and civil liberties

In the Turkey of today, political rights and civil liberties are limited, and it has the status of ‘not free’ according to the NGO Freedom House. The media landscape is limited to a few companies, most close to the Erdoğan presidency, sometimes as a necessity, to avoid further limitations by the president. Critical online news providers do still exist, but they are being actively targeted. Dozens of media workers and journalists are held in pretrial detention or are serving sentences for terrorism offenses. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government attempted to manipulate the statistics, and critics, independent medical personnel, and even civilians sharing independent information related to the pandemic were arrested. In October 2022, the government tabled a new bill criminalising the spread of disinformation. The law's vague definition of what constitutes disinformation appears to give the government more power to censor and target government-critical organisations and journalists.

Though there remains a certain element of political pluralism, it is being increasingly limited. The government has cracked down on opposition parties and seriously harmed political rights and electoral opportunities for minority groups, most notably Kurds. Since the summer of 2021, the Kurdish party HDP is faced with a closure case, and the question remains whether the party will continue to exist. It has been accused of “terrorism” through ties with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), though the HDP denies this.

The judiciary in Turkey is also being limited in its independence. In July 2021, Parliament passed a law changing the structure of bar associations, weakening the associations’ authority and independence. Though this move was met with protest by 78 out of 80 bar associations, it was enforced, limiting the independence of the judiciary.

Human rights and gender equality 

In recent years the country slipped in a  deepening human rights crisis with an erosion of Turkeys rule of law and democracy framework. Regarding gender equality, Turkey had long been ahead of its time, giving women the right to vote in the early twentieth century. However, women are nowadays still exposed to large amounts of violence and human rights violations, with domestic violence instances increasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March 2021, President Erdoğan controversially withdrew from the 2014 Istanbul Convention on violence against women. This was met with large-scale protests by women in the streets of multiple cities, and the United Nations Human Rights Commission unsuccessfully urged Erdoğan to reconsider the withdrawal. The deterioration of the situation seems to stem from the political reversal initiated by Erdoğan to appease conservative forces in Turkey.

 The rights of the LGBTI+ community in Turkey are also systematically violated, who face discrimination and violence, exacerbated by homophobic rhetoric from politicians. The Istanbul Pride March on June 26, 2022, became an event where hundreds of people were attacked and arrested by a police crackdown. Human right organisations consider the attitude of Turkish authorities to be a brutal campaign against LBGTI+ rights activism and freedom of expression. LGBTI+ topics remain a taboo subject in large parts of Turkish society. Meanwhile, the LGBTI+  facing prejudices, discriminatory practices by governmental authorities and are insufficiently protected under Turkish law.

Ethnic minority groups such as Kurds suffer from discrimination in Turkey, with Kurdish and pro-Kurdish civil society organisations and political parties continuing to suffer problems in exercising their rights. Kurds are the largest ethnic minority of Turkey. Since the dawn of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the relationship between the government and the Kurds has been tense. During several rebellions in the early twentieth century, the conflict deepened. Restrictions were placed on Kurdish nationalism, leading to economic disadvantages and human rights violations. The PKK, the best known and most radical of the Kurdish movements, launched a guerrilla campaign in 1984 for a homeland in the Kurdish heartland in the southeast. Thousands died and hundreds of thousands became refugees in the ensuing conflict with the PKK, which Turkey, the US and the European Union deem a terrorist organisation. In the early 21st century several attempts were undertaken to end the hostilities. Multiple times, peace talks were shattered by renewed violence. Especially the conflict in Syria became troubling.

The Kurdish coalition in Syria became increasingly a target of Ankara. In 2018 Turkey launched a full military invasion against the Kurds in Syria. Erdoğan defended the move by claiming that it was intended to expel the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) - viewed as a terrorist organisation by Turkey, due to the PKK being part of the SDF - from the border and create a 30 km-deep safe zone. This safe zone would house around 3.5 million Syrian refugees currently residing in Turkey. Soon after the invasion started, the underpowered Kurdish militias made a deal with the Syrian government, allowing the Syrian army to move into the area of the Kurds – an area over which they lost control over a few years ago. This opened up the way for Turkey and the SDF to agree to a ceasefire. On 22 October 2019 a deal was made, which entailed the use of joint Russian-Turkish patrols to ensure the 30 km-deep safe zones. The invasion can be seen as a Turkish victory, since they regained more control over their border and could now start housing the millions of refugees in the safe zone.

The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is a legal Kurdish political party. This party, too, has faced increasing difficulties as Erdoğan is extending his hate towards the Kurds. In the summer of 2021, an indictment was leveled against the HDP, calling for a closure of the party and the banning of hundreds of individuals associated with it. Critics see the closure case as a political move to clamp down on opposition, particularly as the government has been increasingly vocal on their distrust of the HDP.

Rising authoritarianism

On 15 July 2016, forces loyal to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan quashed a coup attempt by members of the military that began in the evening and devolved into turmoil and violence. He blamed the coup attempt on rival Fethullah Gulen (leader of Fethullahist Terrorist Organisation (FETÖ), a cleric and former ally who lives in exile in the US. Erdoğan repeatedly demanded the US to arrest or extradite Gulen. More than 40.000 people have been detained and nearly 20.000 have been arrested in response to the failed July 15 coup attempt, 79.900 civil servants were suspended and 5.014 were dismissed 4.262 institutions. After the coup, the government held a referendum under emergency law on replacing the current parliamentary system by a presidential system, which was narrowly accepted. In the three biggest cities Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir - and in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast the majority voted 'no'. However, in many regions in the Anatolian heartland the 'yes' vote won. This authoritarian turn was a response to the crises that Turkey experienced while being governed by Erdoğan.

The constitutional changes enabled Erdoğan to become a rising authoritarian leader, who can appoint and fire ministers and top state officials, control the budget, issue decrees, and declare emergency rule. Through a crackdown on dissidents, human rights defenders and political opposition, Erdoğan attempts to eliminate threats to his leadership. Despite having regular elections, Erdoğan has taken various anti-democratic measures to erect hurdles to politically contests his leadership. These include changes to the electoral laws, introduce limitations to media freedom and freedom of expression and controversial detainment of people in Turkey’s judicial system.

According to the Turkish government, the presidential system strengthens leadership and frees the country of unstable coalition governments. Critics, however, claim that by allowing the president to retain ties to his political party the separation of powers is jeopardised and checks and balances have become limited or disappeared. Commonly, in presidential systems, the president and leader of a political party are two different individuals to avoid overlap between the legislative and executive branches. In the Turkish system, however, the president is both leader of a political party and president. In addition, critics are concerned that Erdoğan is establishing a one-man rule.

Rifts within AK party

On 12 December 2019, Ahmet Davutoğlu, prime minister of Turkey from 2014 to 2016 and former member of the AK Party, registered a new political party called “the Future Party” at the interior ministry. Davutoğlu criticised Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) in the past, accusing them of economic mismanagement and limiting basic liberties and free speech. The former prime minister was a close ally of Erdoğan but fell out of favour over multiple issues. Disagreements about the proposed changes in the constitution, increasing the power of the president, forced Davutoğlu to resign from his position in May 2019. Davutoğlu remained quiet for a while but in anticipation of establishing a new party, he leftthe AK Party in September 2019, arguing that it could no longer provide solutions for the problems at hand and was preventing internal debate about the party policy. Davutoğlu was not the only former Erdoğan ally to break ranks. Former economy minister Ali Babacan also set up a new party, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA).

Allegedly due to these rifts, the COVID-19 pandemic and the failing economy, President Erdoğan’s popularity fell further. Polls from March 2021 show combined support for the AK Party and the MHP falling below 45%. In order to ensure the MHP remains in parliament regardless of the failing popularity, the threshold for entering parliament was lowered from 10% of votes, to 7%. Through this change, Erdoğan could ensure that MHP remains in parliament to strengthen the voice of the AK Party. Nevertheless, popularity of the parties is falling, and the question remains what this will mean for the elections in 2023.

Elections

Parliamentary elections

In June 2018, early parliamentary elections were held, enforcing the constitutional changes from the 2016 referendum. Thereby, these elections marked the transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential system of government.

In the run-up to the elections, Turkey’s opposition formed an alliance not to win the elections as a coalition, but to challenge Erdoğan’s ability to rule without needing the authority of the parliament. Nonetheless, supporters of the AKP’s main opposition, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), were disappointed in the results, as the CHP managed to secure a mere 22.6% of votes. A new opposition party, the Good Party (IYI), achieved 9.96% of the votes, giving it 43 seats, while the HDP Kurdish opposition party achieved 67 seats. The Felicity Party, also an opposition party, got 1.34% of the votes, not enough to earn a place in parliament. The AKP, together with its allied party MHP, won 344 seats, giving them a majority in parliament. Through this, the AKP and MHP, together the People’s Alliance, can completely sideline opposition.

The campaign format has been accused of being biased towards the AKP, and political analysts have described Turkey’s electoral system as one of façade and authoritarianism. The opposition suffered from a lack of public attention. Kurdish HDP candidate Selahattin Demirtaş was imprisoned at the time of the elections and throughout the course of the campaign, on charges of terrorism for allegedly supporting the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). Demirtaş was thus denied to hold speeches and rally properly, and he later accused the media of acting as if he was not running for the elections at all. Apart from the HDP, which in the end managed to secure 11.7% of the votes and thus pass the 10% threshold to get into parliament, small oppositional parties received little attention. Additionally, the ongoing state of emergency since the coup seriously impacted other oppositional party’s options for campaigning, and barred certain groups from entering polling places.

 

Party

% of votes

Seats in parliament

Justice and Development Party (AKP)

42.56%

295

Republican People's Party (CHP)

22.64%

146

People's Democratic Party (HDP)

11.70%

67

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)

11.0%

49

Good Party (IYI)

9.96%

43

Total

100%

600

Presidential elections

In June 2018, the presidential elections were held along with the parliamentary elections. These elections were the second presidential elections held in Turkey. Several candidates ran for president: Erdogan (Justice and Development Party, AKP), Muharrem Ince (Republican People’s Party, CHP), Selahattin Demirtaş (People’s Democracy Party, HDP), Temel Karamollaoglu (Felicity Party), Dogu Perincek (The Patriotic Party), and Meral AKsener (The Good Party, IYI). Erdogan came out as the winner with 52.59% of the votes, followed by Muharrem Ince with 30.64% and Selahattin Demirtas with 8.40%. Turnout for these elections was 82.57%.

Critics say that both the elections and the campaigns leading up to them were marred by an uneven playing field. The incumbent party received excessive coverage in the national media, and had extended access to public and private resources. There were no large-scale allegations of fraud, but they were held in what Amnesty described as a “climate of fear” due to the uneven playing field and unfair and unfree media landscape.

Official election results:

Candidate   Parties
 Recep Tayyip Erdoğan  Justice and Development Party (AKP)    52.59%
 Muharrem Ince  Republican People’s Party (CHP)  30.64%
 Selahattin Demirtaş  Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)  8.40%
 Meral Aksener  Good Party (IYI)  7.29%
 Temel Karamollaglu  Felicity Party (SP)  0.89%
 Dogu Perincek  Patriotic Party (VP)  0.20%



Political parties

(Social) Democratic Parties

Logo of Republican People’s Party

Republican People’s Party (CHP)

Party Leader: Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

Number of seats: 135

http://www.chp.org.tr/

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Other Parties

Logo of Justice and Development Party

Justice and Development Party (AK Party)

Party Leader: Recep Tayyip Erdoğan

Number of seats: 286

http://www.akparti.org.tr/english

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Logo of People's Democratic Party (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Logo_of_the_Peoples%27_Democratic_Party_(Turkey).svg)

People's Democratic Party (HDP)

Party Leader: Mithat Sancar & Pervin Buldan

Number of seats: 56

hdp.org.tr

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Logo of Nationalist Action Party

Nationalist Action Party (MHP)

Party Leader: Devlet Bahceli

Number of seats: 47

http://www.mhp.org.tr/mhp_dil.php?dil=en

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Logo of İyi Party (Good Party)

İyi Party (Good Party) (IYI)

Party Leader: Meral Akşener

Number of seats: 37

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Biographies

Image of Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

President

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Image of Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP)

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Image of Ekrem İmamoğlu

Ekrem İmamoğlu

Mayor of Istanbul

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Image of Selahattin Demirtaş

Selahattin Demirtaş

Leader of the HDP

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