Can Erdoğan win in the first round?

Can Erdoğan win in the first round?

Key elections in Turkey are now six days away. The biggest question is whether President Tayyip Erdoğan will be re-elected in the first round on June 24. His re-election in the first round is dependent on three main factors.

1- The ability of the opposition alliance formed by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the İYİ (Good) Party and the Felicity Party (SP) to attract votes from Erdoğan’s alliance of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Greater Unity Party (BBP).

2- The ability of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) to attract Kurdish voters from the AK Parti.

3- The ability of the MHP to take back votes it has lost to the İYİ Party.

Starting from the last point, it seems that there is still potential within the MHP to attract some of the votes it has lost to the İYİ Party, especially in small constituencies, by pointing to potential state jobs and tenders if the MHP’s alliance with the AK Parti continues after the elections. On the other hand, there is a strong bond between İYİ Party supporters and their leader Meral Akşener. There is also a possibility that if the MHP falls below 5 percent in the election, its leader Devlet Bahçeli might not be able to enter parliament due to the small size of his constituency, Osmaniye, near the Syria border. That could then highlight Akşener as a magnet for right-wing and nationalist MPs in parliament.

The capacity of the HDP to attract Kurdish votes from the AK Parti is a big question mark. Some people think that some Kurdish voters of the AK Parti (roughly half of all Kurdish votes) could go to the HDP or abstain in reaction against Erdoğan’s alliance with the Turkish nationalist MHP, as well as against the big security operations in east and southeast against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). But those analyses may be mistaken on certain aspects: The main motivation of the AK Parti’s Kurdish voters is not Kurdish nationalist feelings but the Islamic faith, the traditional way of life and the income opportunities that they think are more easily found by supporting the AK Parti. It would therefore be a surprise if meaningful shifts take place from the AK Parti to the HDP, especially amid speculation about voting irregularities in eastern and southeastern provinces (which are denied by the government).

Whether the CHP-led alliance can draw votes from the AK Parti-led alliance is another key factor that will determine the results of the election. The fact that the CHP candidate for the presidency, Muharrem İnce, has proven to be more popular than anticipated is the biggest surprise of this election campaign, and may have led to exaggerated forecasts about the election results. The reality is that İnce has managed to consolidate the CHP’s votes which had been demoralized by repeated election defeats. No other CHP candidate would have been able to ignite the crowds as İnce is doing, but consolidating one’s own power base and perhaps extending it a bit is not the same as attracting votes from your main opponent, Erdoğan, who has run the country for the last 16 years.

Similarly, the capacity of the SP to attract votes back from the AK Parti (which originally split from the traditionalist Islamic/conservative roots now represented by the SP) could be limited. A number of religious sects and communities have been siding with Erdoğan, attracted by the resources and capabilities they are able to reach under AK Parti governments. 

Meanwhile, the İYİ Parti could be in the process of making a strategic policy that may cost the anti-Erdoğan alliance dear. Instead of targeting the urban, secular and rather educated grassroots of the AK Parti and the MHP, Akşener and her team have been targeting the rather rural and less well-educated grassroots of the CHP. The aim seems to be not to take the government but to replace the CHP as the main opposition party in parliament (and also it has been easier to work on CHP voters than on AK Parti voters). The strategy had limited success in the beginning, while managing to attract a few percentage points of support from the CHP. But when the CHP named İnce as its presidential candidate the winds started to reverse. İnce has managed to consolidate the CHP’s power base and even attract some votes from the İYİ Party. As a result, because of the time and energy it has spent on its alliance partner the CHP, the İYİ Party has not been able to focus on attracting votes from the AK Parti.

Özer Sencar, the respected head of the pollster Metropoll, said recently that the opposition is likely to fail to draw away the support of conservative voters, who will likely conserve their positioning with Erdoğan in the current circumstances. Sencar may well have a point. Though it should not be taken for granted yet, it should not surprise anyone if Erdoğan manages to win in the first round of the presidential election on June 24.