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[ANALYSIS] Can Erdoğan lose?

The question regarding Turkey’s snap elections on June 24 is not which candidate or party will win. That is, the Turkish people will learn the answer to a more important question: Can Erdoğan lose?

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have won 12 elections since November 2002. Among five parliamentary elections, only once, on June 7, 2015, did the AKP fail to form a single-party government, although it garnered 40.5 percent of the vote. Following that result Erdoğan forced a repeat election, and five months later, on Nov. 1, 2015, the AKP regained majority rule by 49.5 percent.

“There was an indecisiveness on June 7, and we paid for it,” Erdoğan said at a party meeting on April 27. Between June and November, the deadliest terror attack in Turkish history occurred, killing 109 people. Also, the AKP ended the peace process with armed Kurdish militias after June 7, when the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) exceeded the 10 percent election threshold and interfered in Erdoğan’s presidential dreams.

However, the June 7 elections were still mainly considered to be an aberration. Since Erdoğan has expanded his power through the bureaucracy and the media, the Turkish public is believed to be voting under unfair circumstances.

“No one doubts that Mr Erdogan, in power as prime minister and president for the past 15 years, will win a landslide victory. Thin-skinned, bombastic and increasingly intolerant of any opposition, he has made sure that no one else can win,” The Times argued in an article published on May 7. It described the conditions of the snap elections as “neither free, nor fair.”

An election forensic analysis penned by five leading political scientists after a constitutional referendum held on April 16, 2017 concluded that “in particular our analysis suggests the existence of ballot-stuffing in about 6 percent of the polling stations and a combined effect with voter rigging that was just large enough to change the outcome of the referendum from ‘No’ to ‘Yes’.”

Before Erdoğan decided to form an alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) prior to the referendum, the AKP had obtained 49.5 percent of the vote in addition to the MHP’s 11.9 percent in the Nov. 1, 2015 elections. Yet, their joint effort in the referendum only resulted a win by a hair. Even the myths surrounding the July 15 coup attempt failed to boost their bid.

That is why the Turkish opposition is more optimistic about the snap elections. This time, Meral Akşener’s İYİ (Good) Party could win enough nationalist voters over from Devlet Bahçeli’s MHP, while Temel Karamollaoğlu’s Felicity Party (SP) can hurt the AKP by attracting the support of resentful İslamists.

Still, to beat Erdoğan in the presidential race requires Kurdish support. The HDP, here, may provide a majority to the opposition in Parliament as well as serve as a determining factor for the highest post in Turkish politics. If the HDP surpasses the 10 percent threshold and joins opposition forces in a second round of votes, Erdoğan could lose.

A hopeful note on the HDP’s expected support for the CHP-İYİ Party-SP alliance is that the CHP’s candidate, Muharrem İnce, visited the HDP’s Selahattin Demirtaş in jail on May 9. Also, the SP’s Karamollaoğlu is trying to make statements sympathetic to Kurds during his campaign. However the nationalist Akşener is still a question mark for many Kurdish voters.

Everything else aside, the wild fluctuations of the Turkish economy, the paralyzing polarization among society and the always-heated political agenda all lend great support to the Turkish opposition.

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