Three differences between Turkey’s 2014 and 2018 presidential elections
Turkey held its first popular presidential elections in August 2014. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, then prime minister and head of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), won the election with the support of 52 percent of voters against his two rivals, Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu – the joint candidate of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) - and Selahattin Demirtaş, the now-jailed former co-chair of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu was fiercely criticized for not presenting a candidate from the CHP ranks and agreeing with the MHP on a conservative figure who was well-known in the diplomatic community but a mystery for Turkish public opinion.
Now, four years after the country’s first popular presidential election, Turkey is set to go to be polls again on June 24 to elect the next president, who will enjoy excessive powers granted to the elected head of state through the controversial April 2017 referendum.
There are important differences between the 2014 and 2018 polls, which could be both to the advantage and to the disadvantage of the candidates. The first difference is about the number of contenders.
The Supreme Election Board (YSK) on May 9 announced that the applications of six contenders to run for the presidency on June 24 have been accepted: President Erdoğan as the joint candidate of the AKP and the MHP, Muharrem İnce from the CHP, and Selahattin Demirtaş, the jailed former co-chair of the HDP, will run for the presidency.
The leaders of three other political parties – the İYİ (Good) Party’s Meral Akşener, the Felicity Party’s (SP) Temel Karamollaoğlu, and the Homeland Party’s (VP) Doğu Perinçek - have also qualified as presidential candidates after collecting 100,000 signatures.
It is generally believed that the fact that more candidates will run in the polls will be to the disadvantage of Erdoğan – as the strongest contender - who wants to claim his victory in the first round by securing at least 50 percent plus one vote.
Unlike 2014, it will probably be difficult for Erdoğan to attract votes from other political parties, as each of them represented their own candidate in the June 24 election. It is worth remembering that İhsanoğlu received fewer votes than the sum total of CHP-MHP votes in 2014 local elections. Therefore it may well be argued that the high number of candidates will work to the disadvantage of Erdoğan in the first round.
The second difference between 2014 and 2018 elections is that the latter will be taking place simultaneously with the parliamentary elections, in line with last year’s constitutional amendments.
One of the ideas behind holding these two elections together was to push voters to vote for Erdoğan and his AKP together, in order to not weaken the president in his office. However, the fact that four of the opposition parties have been able to create an alliance against the AKP-MHP duo means that the latter may find it more difficult to win a majority in parliament. Enabling parties to form alliances practically meant abolishing the 10 percent national threshold for minor political parties and therefore letting them be represented at parliament. This is seen as another aspect to the disadvantage of the AKP.
The third difference is that these polls will take place under the state of emergency, imposed after the July 2016 coup attempt. Government officials and pro-government circles claim that emergency rule brings no obstacles to fair and equal elections, but the truth is rather different.
Many opposition politicians, including presidential candidate Demirtaş, have been jailed in an environment defined by restrictions and amid a political mood imposed by the state of emergency. A relative media blackout on presidential candidates could be considered yet another result of the political environment in Turkey. This environment is often nourished by the government through its strongly nationalistic rhetoric, which often links dissidents to terror groups and which endlessly argues that the “whole world is against it.” No doubt Erdoğan and his government greatly benefit from this narrative.
In short, by far Turkey’s most important elections on June 24 seem to be open to any scenario. There is no doubt that all candidates and their political parties will work until the last minute for the best result.