The Turkish presidential elections of 24 June 2018
Yardımcı Geyikçi, Ş.
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On 24 June 2018 Turkish voters headed to the polls to elect a new president and parliament after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s decision to call for snap elections eighteen months earlier than scheduled. The election was noteworthy for several reasons. First, the electoral campaign took place under emergency law that was initially issued after the failed 2016 putsch. Following the coup attempt, the government carried out a widespread purge of its opponents in the public sector, curtailed political space for dissent, and subsequently consolidated its hold on power, thus tilting the already uneven playing field. Furthermore, this was the first election held after the 2017 constitutional referendum that created an executive presidency with limited checks and balances. Allied with the opposition leader Devlet Bahçeli, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rationalized his decision to call for snap elections by suggesting that the country needed to inaugurate the new system to ensure effective decision-making during hard times. Indeed, there was worry among pundits that the Turkish economy was heading for an economic crisis, as evidenced by the rising levels of unemployment and inflation rate, not to mention the weak national currency. As such, the timing of snap elections was chosen with the intention of hindering the opposition’s ability to cooperate, particularly when socio-economic worries, as well as the large number of Syrian migrants in the country, had begun to erode the government’s popularity. Throughout the campaign, the opposition candidates faced an uneven playing field against the incumbent due to the excessive coverage of the latter in national media and his unfair access to public and private resources. While Erdoğan was the clear frontrunner, he defied the opinion polls by winning the presidency in the first round with 52.6 per cent of the vote. We contend that in addition to benefiting from the uneven playing field that has been a feature of Turkey’s competitive authoritarian regime (Esen & Gumuscu, 2016), Erdoğan owes this victory to his lasting popularity and growing hegemony over the political system. As the country’s undisputed leader, Erdoğan still enjoys strong support among the conservative voters, many of whom attribute their economic achievements under the AKP rule to him. Erdogan consolidated this electoral base by portraying the election as a contest between his nationalist-conservative camp and the rest. In particular, he resorted to media sanctions and intimidation to sideline credible rivals from the conservative camp, while eliminating the popular pro-Kurdish candidate through imprisonment. It should be also noted that the ruling party did not hesitate to resort to extrajudicial methods, such as vote rigging, ballot stuffing, and voter intimidation. Although these methods do not account for Erdoğan’s victory in the end, they demonstrate that meaningful electoral competition in Turkey is becoming exceedingly difficult. With his victory Erdoğan has become the head of the executive branch and will directly govern the country through his cabinet.