Ahead of Turkey’s election on May 14, many commentators have heralded the vote as a historic opportunity to restore democracy. The hype is well-founded: Strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s popularity has suffered significantly from the ongoing economic crisis and recent earthquake disaster in the country’s southeast. As support for Erdogan has fallen to record lows, opinion polls show an exceptionally tight race.
The chances of victory are so high that Turkey’s notoriously splintered opposition parties have cast aside their differences and joined forces in an unprecedented bid to unseat Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Secular, Islamist, leftist, and right-wing parties are campaigning together on behalf of Erdogan’s main opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Even those in Turkey’s Kurdish minority are rooting for Kilicdaroglu, despite the CHP’s nationalist reputation.
But a major question looms: Will Erdogan—an autocrat with near-total control of Turkey’s state institutions, judiciary, and media—actually allow himself to lose? The president has gone to great lengths to guarantee victory for the AKP, including by polarizing the public, persecuting opposition figures, and muzzling independent media. Allegations of irregularity and fraud cast a shadow over elections in 2014, 2017, and 2019. Given the high stakes of the upcoming vote, fears that the government and its supporters will once again resort to such tactics are understandable.