Elections in Turkey: continuity or a fresh start?

Candidates are neck and neck in the run-up to the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey on 14 May: CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his opposition alliance have realistic chances of beating long-time President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his AK Party. Commentators follow the race with bated breath.

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Yetkin Report (TR) /

Challengers won't be provoked

Attacks on the opposition and its supporters are increasing in Turkey. But fortunately they remain calm, observes Yetkin Report:

“The building of the İYİ Parti in Istanbul was fired at; it was reported that the security guard of a construction site had driven away a thief. Marauders threw stones at Ekrem İmamoğlu and his supporters in Erzurum, injuring 17. In Mersin, an election campaign bus of the Yeşil Sol Party was attacked and five people were injured. ... But bad news for [the presidential palace in] Beştepe: the opposition is aware of these provocations and is not responding to them. ... İmamoğlu talks of 'throwing roses at those who throw stones'.”

Hürriyet (TR) /

Erdoğan should call for calm

Many Turks are discussing whether the elections will be fair and secure more fervently than ever, Hürriyet notes:

“Let's be honest, this issue has been brought to the fore by statements made by certain government politicians in recent weeks. ... We did not see this in previous elections. One could even say that apart from the military coups and interventions, in the 73 years since 1950 changes of government resulting from election results were generally not a cause for debate. ... In order for this election to take place in a peaceful atmosphere it would be very beneficial if President Erdoğan strongly emphasised the message 'Let political competition not turn into hostility' in the second half of this week when he ends his election campaign.”

Le Monde (FR) /

New opportunities for the EU

A victory for the opposition would open several doors, Le Monde comments:

“The EU could modernise the long-standing customs union with Turkey and extend it to services. It could even liberalise visas and involve Turkey in energy projects in the Mediterranean to help settle the disputes with Greece. And let's not forget the possibility of cooperation within the framework of the European Political Community.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Europe must not leave the Turks in the lurch

If opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu wins it would be a step in the right direction but nothing more than that, warns NRC columnist Aylin Bilic:

“The EU has a strong interest in its neighbour Turkey developing into a stable democracy with a reliable domestic and foreign policy and a healthy economy once more. ... Europe has no choice. If it leaves Turkey in the lurch, the danger of Erdoğan making a comeback will be many times greater - which would cause the economy, the rule of law and democracy to deteriorate even further and set in motion an even greater exodus from Turkey to Europe than it now faces.”

T24 (TR) /

Teach Europe a lesson

Western observers don't think the Turks have it in them to change, T24 comments:

“They see Turkey as both Eastern and Muslim, and cannot reconcile it with democracy. In a way, Erdoğan's Turkey proved them right. As Turkey moved away from democracy, it created a comfort zone for them because they no longer had to think about its place in Europe. And now now they find it difficult to leave that comfort zone. ... If there is a change of government on 14 May, it will set an important example that a one-man regime can be overthrown with elections, and that a predominantly Muslim society can have democratic reflexes.”

Göteborgs-Posten (SE) /

Erdoğan's defeat could be Sweden's chance

The election outcome could have an impact on Sweden's Nato membership, which Turkey has always blocked, Göteborgs-Posten believes:

“If the opposition wins the election, Sweden's application could be approved by the Turkish parliament before the Nato summit in July. ... If he's beaten, will Erdoğan relinquish power of his own accord? He has experience with electoral fraud. But Turkey is a democracy after all - albeit a flawed one. ... For Erdoğan to succeed in a coup he'd also need strong support from the military, which he lacks. If he and his party lose the election on Sunday, it would be the start of a new chapter for Turkey. And perhaps also for Sweden.”

Vladislav Inozemtsev (RU) /

Limited parallels with Putin

Writing on Facebook, political commentator Vladislav Inosemtsev compares the presidents of Russia and Turkey:

“For years Erdoğan has won every possible election, he has rewritten the constitution, moved from one key post to another, strengthened traditional values and indulged in geopolitical experiments and the construction of a 'Turkic world' at the expense of the national economy. ... Yet one should not draw too direct parallels between Turkey and Russia, firstly because the institutions of elections and an independent judiciary were never completely destroyed in our southern neighbour, and secondly because Turkey remains a successful industrialised country. ... Erdoğan has not succeeded in completely cleansing the political arena.”

Habertürk (TR) /

The silent majority will decide

This time the people are not letting on who they will vote for, observes journalist Muharrem Sarıkaya in Habertürk:

“In this election the 'silent majority' will be decisive. ... In every place I visited last week, all the candidates of all parties said the same thing. ... Politicians can no longer read the voting behaviour of the masses. ... There is no sign of party placards or posters on the balconies and windows, which generally indicate the political attitude of a street or district. We walked through so many streets, but apart from around the election offices of the parties we couldn't find anyone who had put up party placards or election posters on their own initiative.”

NZZ am Sonntag (CH) /

No quick improvement even after he's gone

Many voters face a very difficult decision, comments the NZZ am Sonntag:

“Erdoğan's rule has lasted since 2002. He has restructured his state and its institutions. The economy, the media, the civil service - everything dances to his tune. Voters in Turkey will weigh the benefits: continue with Erdoğan, who is so powerful that he decides many things with a wave of his hand - the doubling of the minimum wage, the abolishment of the retirement age, one month of free gas for all households? Or put their trust in a new team? A six-party alliance? A new president who promises a return to full democracy but is unlikely to achieve a rapid improvement of the economic situation?”

Yetkin Report (TR) /

Foreign powers "interfering" again

Kılıçdaroğlu has given numerous interviews to the international press in recent weeks and major news magazines have featured the potential ousting of Erdoğan as their cover story. Erdoğan has reacted very harshly to this, observes Yetkin Report:

“[The Turkish presidential palace in] Beştepe is saying that foreign powers are active once more and trying to influence the elections in Turkey - as if the AKP electorate constantly read The Economist or Der Spiegel and was influenced by these articles. ... Yet it is President Erdoğan himself who has called the election on 14 May a 'decisive election'. ... But when the foreign press talks to his rival, even speculating that he could win, that's when the fun is over.”

The Observer (GB) /

Time for a change

Erdoğan's cancelling a campaign appearance because of health problems sends a clear signal, The Observer comments:

“Erdoğan, 69, has ruthlessly wielded power, as prime minister and president, for 20 years. His carefully cultivated image is of a tough, indestructible leader. Yet suddenly he appears frail. Ministers insist that his illness - he has previously had intestinal surgery - is nothing more serious than stomach flu. ... Whatever the truth, the episode has added to a growing sense that an authoritarian figure who has come to dominate almost every aspect of Turkish life, personally dictating domestic, security and foreign policy, is due a reckoning - and that it's time for a change.”

Le Temps (CH) /

Don't be too quick to write off the incumbent

Despite growing support for his challenger Erdoğan hasn't lost the battle yet, Le Temps insists:

“His increasingly obvious return to a closed and exclusive political Islam, his eccentric about-turns, the repression of intellectuals, opposition figures, the media and all those who could potentially outshadow him in recent years have not damaged his great popularity. It remains intact among large sections of the population. Even combined with the extremely poor economic results, which the Turkish government tried to conceal for as long as possible, these obstacles, although numerous, may still not be enough.”

Yetkin Report (TR) /

Talk of a coup is intimidation

Yetkin Report is worried by the fact that the Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has described the elections as a political coup:

“Calling elections - the most legitimate foundation of a democracy - a coup represents a new dimension. Because by espousing such an extremely anti-democratic view you can count everyone who doesn't work for President Tayyip Erdoğan in the election - so at least half the population - as coup plotters. ... Is this a message from the interior minister to opposition voters two weeks before the election: 'Even if we lose power because of your votes, we won't give it up'?”

Élet és Irodalom (HU) /

Success only in foreign policy

Above all, Turkey's next government will have to cope with the economic crisis, historian Mihály Dobrovits writes in Élet és Irodalom:

“The Second Nagorno-Karabakh War, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict and the accession of Finland and Sweden to Nato have given Ankara increasingly good cards. However, failures in domestic policy and economic policy and the catastrophic earthquake in February have countered these successes. ... Whoever wins the election will have to take over a country that is in a promising foreign policy situation and a profound economic crisis.”