The June 24 elections in Turkey, unexpectedly announced just two months ago following a decision to bring them forward by a year and a half, promise to be mesmerizing. All elections held in Turkey are usually compelling anyway, since for the past fifteen years they have consisted of a struggle between the Justice and Development Party (AKP), its leader, the current President of the Republic Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the strategies fielded by opposition parties to oppose him. Every vote is effectively needed to test the country's democratic capacity.
Just like last year's constitutional referendum, these elections are being held in the state of emergency declared after the July 16, 2016 coup attempt, in extremely critical conditions as far as freedom of speech is concerned, as reported by the Turkish Journalist Association as well as by various international organizations. Nevertheless, the debate has been no less lively and intense because of this. For the first time since the constitutional reform, the Turkish people will be going to polling stations for a double election, presidential and general, and they will be voting according to a new electoral law. One of the most important innovations introduced is the possibility of forming party alliances. This is one way of getting around the 10% cut-off point that has so far been a great obstacle to minor parties. In order to win seats, it will now be sufficient for the alliance to which a party belongs to gain more than 10% of the votes. There are two blocs running in these elections: the People's Alliance (Cumhur İttifakı) formed by the AKP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the smaller Great Unity Party (BPP), and the National Alliance (Millet İttifakı) formed by the main opposition centre-left Republican People's Party (CHP), the new right-wing IYI (Good) Party, as well as two smaller parties, the Felicity Party (Saadet Partisi) and the Democratic Party (DP).
While the alliance between Erdoğan's party and MHP's ultra-nationalists is no longer surprising, since it became consolidated immediately after the 2016 attempted coup - and in particular on the occasion of constitutional reform, when the MHP's support for the AKP proved to be decisive - the opposition's alliance is an interesting factor that has enlivened an electoral scenario that would otherwise have seemed far more static. The four different political movements decided to unite in order to undermine Erdoğan's power and win seats off the AKP so that it will be unable to obtain the majority required to fully implement the presidential regime. The CHP, which has always been the main opposition party with a percentage that for years has remained stable at about 25%, has been obliged to address its inability to renovate itself, to adapt the Kemalist traditions to the progressive left's more liberal demands and reluctance to support an alliance representing the governing old guard and military authoritarianism. Following the success of the March for Justice, a peaceful protest that crossed the entire country, the party tried to search for a new consensus and, on the eve of elections, decided to make a concrete move to allow the new ultra-nationalist party, the IYI Party led by Meral Akşener (which includes senior ex-MHP politicians), to run in these elections. The emerging alliance effectively represents a heterogeneous group that has in common, however, the characteristics of marked nationalism. Just like the government alliance, the opposition therefore appears to rely on sentiments linked to national pride and patriotism, recently reawakened among the population by the failed coup as well as by military operations in Syria.
The National Alliance's powerfully nationalistic characteristics have prevented the Democratic People's Party (HDP), whose base consists of the Kurdish people, from joining it. The HDP had represented the real political novelty in the last general election in 2015, when thanks to the involvement of the liberal left, this pro-Kurdish party managed to surpass the cut-off point. With the HDP, the representatives of minorities and left-wing movements entered the Great Assembly, as did the representatives of left-wing voters reluctant to support the Kemalist party, which, until then, had been on the sidelines of parliamentary life. The HDP, which had to appoint a new leadership following the arrest of Selahattin Demirtaş, now a presidential candidate, is once again aiming to surpass the cut-off point and, although polls do not exclude this, it is not a given in the current context and the outcome may be decisive in the redistribution of seats.
The National Alliance, with its different factions – secular Kemalist, ultra-nationalist, conservative Islamist – seems to be addressing a varied electorate and to be determined to undermine Erdoğan, but not necessarily with nationalist and conservative policies. While the CHP is still seriously insisting on democracy, human rights and social justice values, this coalition seems above all to be playing on the sentiments of exhaustion and depression experienced by Turkish society due to the state of emergency, the economic crisis and extreme polarization. Turkey must return to "turning its face towards the sun" as the Good Party slogan states, implying that darkness is the effect of Erdoğan's policies. The alliance is also relying on those who feel betrayed by the president's political rise and, in this, the Felicity Party - the result of a schism within an Islamist political movement that might have risen in opposition to the AKP - probably hopes to win over religious voters, achieving a better result than the previous one, which was below 1%.
In any event, the four parties forming the opposition alliance have not agreed on a shared programme, while they do share the objective of defeating Erdoğan. Similarly, they have not agreed on presenting one single candidate in the presidential elections. There are in fact six names running for the highest position in the Turkish Republic. In addition to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (representing the People's Alliance coalition) there are also Muharrem Ince for the CHP, Meral Akşener, the only woman and leader of the IYI party, Temel Karamollaoğlu for the Felicity Party and Doğu Perinçek for the Vatan Partisi. Both Muharrem Ince and Meral Akşener are figures that seem to indicate that Erdoğan may not win the first round. However, while Akşener, albeit potentially the first female president of the republic, is a well-known personality in the country’s history having been Interior Minister during the 1990s, Muharrem Ince, instead, appears to be the new man, "new blood" as he himself says. A former teacher and representative of his party's social-democratic wing, he presents himself as an ordinary man capable of speaking to the entire population. He acts in a way that reminds one of Erdoğan in his early days, ready to redeem the humble people and guarantee a future of shared prosperity. The only candidate who visited Selahattin Demirtaş in prison, Ince seems capable of winning votes also among the Kurds, far more than his own party has been capable of doing, while also managing to reassure religious voters. In the course of the electoral campaign, he has shown that he does not fear the stronger candidate, inviting Erdoğan to a live televised debate that has never taken place, promising an end of the state of emergency and the Central Bank's independence, thereby addressing the most critical points in the president’s policy. Basically, this new electoral law that seemed aimed at confirming a consolidation of power, has offered the opposition margins of manoeuvre.
*The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI).