The Beginner’s Guide to the Turkish Elections

Turkey flags crescent moon
Turkish flags are ubiquitous at election time — and indeed, anytime (Photo by Faruk Melik ÇEVİK on Unsplash)

When? June 24.

Again? Yes, following general elections in 2011, June and November 2015, and a referendum only 12 months ago. This is because incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — a man we hear a lot about — called elections some 17 months early.

Why? Many suggestions: fractured opposition, the nose-diving economy, riding the nationalist war wave. And the small matter of the consolidation of power. If he wins, President Erdogan will have achieved the transfer of the Turkish system from a parliamentary to a strong presidential executive. This is nuanced by the fact that the changes he hopes to enact require that the president’s party is also in control of parliament.

How does it work? The votes will determine the role of president (decided in a second round run-off on July 8 if no single candidate gets more than 50% of the vote in the first round) and 600 members of parliament.

Presidential wannabes

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Pitch? The incumbent. Sole candidate for the People’s Alliance, made up of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), plus a smaller nationalist party. A safe pair of hands.

Chances? Defeat is almost unthinkable.

Muharrem Ince

Pitch? The candidate of the opposition, secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) is as rowdy as Erdogan and almost as pious (his mother and sister wear headscarves), but offers a freer, more liberal and more tech savvy future.

Chances? Slim unless he can break out of the usual CHP base.

Meral Aksener

Pitch? Renegade conservative nationalist from the MHP (after she fell out with their leader over the alliance with Erdogan’s AKP) sells herself as patriotic, pious and dependable without the air of corruption that hangs over the ruling party.

Chances? A first female president for Turkey? In this neighbourhood? Unlikely.

Selahattin Demirtas

Pitch? The charismatic leader of the Kurdish political movement in Turkey languishes behind bars (rather like that other charismatic leader of the Kurdish movement in Turkey, Abdullah Ocalan, whose outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) Demirtas’ party is accused of being a front for). Despite that, he still represents the aspirations of the Kurdish nationalist vote.

Chances? He is there as a spoiler, and he conceivably could be one.

Parliamentary blocs

People’s Alliance

Who? The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), plus junior nationalist partners the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the Great Unity Party (BBP) — initialised party politics can become bewildering in Turkish politics!

In a nutshell? The ruling Islamist party in cahoots with the hardcore Turkish nationalist parties.

Nation Alliance

Who? The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), the newly formed Iyi Party, their sister party the nationalist Democratic Party (DP) and the old school Islamist Felicity Party (SP).

In a nutshell? A motley crew clubbing together to try and club Erdogan’s AKP, but very much a marriage of convenience.

Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP)

Who? An alliance of Turkish left-wingers and Kurdish politicians that offer a more liberal and inclusive alternative that focuses on minority rights — in particular, Kurdish. As a result, they are excluded from the above alliances.

In a nutshell? Though these parties are always on the verge of being repressed and banned out of existence, someone has to represent the country’s Kurds.