The End of the Erdogan Era?

Turkey's Strongman May Have Engineered His Own Downfall

Erdogan at a rally in Nigde, June 2018. Reuters

On Sunday, Turks will go to the polls in both presidential and parliamentary elections. They will be the first elections since last April’s constitutional referendum, which endowed the office of the presidency with considerable powers and freed it from most checks on its authority.

For the nearly half of the electorate that supports the opposition, the stakes could not be higher: these elections may be the last chance to defeat Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the country’s strongman president, and prevent a total collapse of Turkish governing institutions.

Although Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) remain the heavy favorites to win, they are more vulnerable now than they ever have been. Erdogan’s base has narrowed, and after four elections in the past five years, the electorate is exhausted. For the first time in a decade, the AKP has lost control over the narrative and failed to excite voters committed to the party’s success.

In the run-up to these elections, meanwhile, Turkey’s fractured political opposition has finally united, thanks in part to recent changes to Turkey’s electoral laws, originally intended to consolidate Erdogan’s power. By allowing multiple parties to run as a single electoral coalition—a move meant to formalize the AKP’s alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)—the new law has made it easier for the opposition to combine its forces, setting up a showdown between opposition and government coalitions.

This has in turn led to a final twist: with the two large coalitions almost evenly matched, the key to the forthcoming elections will be the performance of the Kurdish-majority Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and their presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas. After years of Erdogan and the AKP hardening their stance toward both Turkish and Syrian Kurds, their fates may, ironically, lie in Kurdish hands. 

Erdogan and AKP banners over Galata Bridge in Istanbul, June 2018. Goran Tomasevic / Reuters


Turkey’s opposition is pursuing a two-pronged strategy, aimed at denying the AKP and its allies a parliamentary majority while preventing Erdogan from winning

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