19th May 2023
Dr Tim Hames
Writer, Consultant and Special adviser
In this update on the recent 17Capital International Analysis "Turkey: The ticking time-bomb?" Dr Tim Hames discusses what has happened since the elections in Turkey and what is to come.

Key updates from the Turkish presidential elections

The elections held on May 14th have indeed triggered a second round in the presidential election which will take place on May 28th. The initial ballot, though, concluded with Mr Erdogan in first place and the firm favourite to retain his office. This outcome was not that which the opinion polls even in the first few days had been anticipating. The President was assisted by a surprisingly strong (and his opponents would assert, and are contending, suspiciously strong) performance in the very regions of the country hit hardest by the February earthquake and where criticism of the rescue effort was rife.

The presidential contest occurred alongside the parliamentary vote which produced a narrow win for the coalition between Mr Erdogan’s AKP and its nationalist MHP allies. Between them, they will control 317 of the 600 seats in the legislature, down between them a sizeable 27 seats versus last time.

The struggle for the presidency is not over. The critical questions are where the more than 5% of the vote initially cast for Sinan Ogan land at the second time of asking, the extent to which the multiple opposition parties can make the state of the economy the central issue and whether the turnout will reach the extremely high level (in excess of 87%) witnessed on May 14th. An upset victory for Kemal Kilicdaroglu is unlikely but it cannot be discounted. If he wins, however, the parliamentary numbers mean that his principal policy platform – returning Turkey to a parliamentary system – is unviable.

Whatever happens next, the ticking time-bomb that is Turkish politics is unlikely to be defused. Even a substantial Erdogan triumph in the final round (by, for example, 53%-47%) will not be recognised as entirely legitimate by an opposition who will insist that the election has not been held in a fashion that is fully free and certainly not by conventional democratic norms, entirely fair. The mayors of Ankara and Istanbul will almost certainly take on the role that Mr Kilicdaroglu would vacate. They will be more vocal and more willing to risk confrontation with the central government than he proved.

Mr Erdogan will not have matters his own way even if he secures a new mandate (if a flawed one). Under the terms of the Turkish Constitution amended to his advantage in 2017, this is the last period of office which he is allowed to exercise. In ideal circumstances, he might wish to revise the rules yet again to avoid this limit on his tenure. To change the constitution by parliamentary assent alone will need 400 votes to do and to commission a referendum to achieve that end requires 360 votes. He and his supporters are a long way short of the backing that they would need. He is thus a lame duck.

The risk for international stability is how he responds to this situation. There is clearly a chance that he will use this last opportunity to reinforce authoritarian rule, to distance Turkey further from its secular moorings and move more forcefully in a socially conservative and semi-Islamist manner and become more detached from the US and Europe and more willing to indulge Russia over Ukraine.

With this in mind, the direction that Turkey takes will have a seismic political and economic impact. That will inevitably influence investment decisions by private equity funds and business in general.