Should President Recep Tayyip Erdogan be re-elected, he will serve until 2023, whereby he will have governed Turkey for 20 of the 100 years since the modern Turkish state was founded. Whether he is re-elected or not, however, Erdogan has already radically changed Turkey and the country’s future depends on these elections.
Turbulence in the Turkish economy because of the markets’ distrust in Erdogan’s fiscal management gave rise to speculation in the past couple of weeks that Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) may lose the elections. Turkish public opinion polls are not always reliable, though, so the most likely outcome remains a victory for the incumbent, either with an absolute majority tomorrow or in the second round against the runner-up, who will have the support of the majority of tomorrow’s candidates. Whether the AKP will be able to form a government is another question.
When his party failed to clinch a majority in local elections in June 2015, Erdogan caused a crisis that sent the country back to the polls in November and got it, though not without being accused of rigging the process. Last year’s constitutional review, meanwhile, granted him greatly enhanced powers, and now, thanks to the state of emergency called after the botched coup of 2016, Erdogan has been able to change the electoral process in a way that makes it more vulnerable to fraud. The Turkish president controls the media, justice and the security forces, and is using public sector firings and arrests to terrorize everyone else.
Apart from the manipulation of the electoral process and the public sector, apart from the fear and division he is cultivating – speaking constantly of subversive elements and enemies – Erdogan is also trying to control the Turks in another, bigger way: On the one hand he is constantly announcing major public projects and on the other he is establishing religious schools and building new mosques.
The Erdogan establishment has also made some extremely reckless foreign policy decisions, leading to a deterioration in relations within just a few years with almost all of Turkey’s neighbors. These neighbors, which include Greece and Cyprus, meanwhile, have no idea whether an Erdogan victory will improve or further strain relations, as everything will depend on the fluctuating whims of one man.
As unlikely as it seems that Erdogan will lose, it is imperative that the people of Turkey prevent him from continuing as president – it is obvious that he intends to establish an autocratic regime, with himself as supreme leader. The only force that can stop Erdogan is the Turkish voters – and tomorrow may be their last chance before it’s too late.