Turkey’s incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the 2018 Turkish Presidential elections while the parliamentary People’s Alliance, a grouping of Erdogan’s AK Party and the conservative MHP have secured a victory over the competing National Alliance which consists of of the centre-left CH Party, the conservative Good party, the ultra-Islamist Saadet Party and the small centrist Democratic Party.
With the final votes tallied, Erdogan secured just under 53% of the vote while his closest opponent Muharrem Ince of the CH Party finished with 30% of all votes cast. This measures favourably vis-a-vis the 2014 Turkish Presidential election where Erdogan received 51% of the vote compared with 38% from his nearest rival. In parliamentary terms, the AK led People’s Alliance attained 54% of all votes while in the last parliamentary election in 2015 the combined total of the AK and 2018 coalition partners MH received 65% of all votes. The total turnout was over 87% of all eligible voters.
In terms of geographical spread, Erdogan and the AK dominated the vast majority of Turkish regions with the CH having better luck in western and south western coastal cities. In the south eastern parts of Turkish the radical Kurdish party HDP continued to win votes but a a reduced rate vis-a-vis the 2015 elections.
While western media falsely described the Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Turkey as a contest between “secularism and religion”, the reality could not be further from the truth. Contrary to simplistic and ultimately false rumours that an Erdogan re-election with an AK Party majority behind him in Parliament would result in Turkey ceasing to be a secular democracy with natural Islamic characteristics, the reality is that Erdogan’s opposition formed an unusual coalition that was always destined to collapse.
The leading opposition CH Party formed the National Alliance, a coalition of multiple parties which in many cases have incompatible views. The strangest inclusion in the coalition is the Saadet (Felicity) Party. The Saadet party seeks to turn Turkey’s constitutional order on its head by creating an effective Islamic theocracy. So far as Saadet is concerned, President Erdogan’s AK Party is far too secular, which is why it is odd that Saadet is in league with the CH Party whose traditional mantra has been that the AK is a threat to secularism. Also part of this coalition is the İyi (Good) Party, a relatively new political group formed from a splintered faction of the conservative/nationalist MHP party who are themselves fighting elections in support of the AK Party. Rounding off the coalition is the small Democratic Party which currently has zero seats in the Turkish parliament with negligible numbers in local legislatures.
In effect, the CH Party has decided to coalesce with a combination of Islamic extremists, a virtual non-entity party and a party split from Erdogan’s MHP allies. If this is supposed to represent some new hybrid ideology capable of fostering genuine support among opponents of Erdogan’s populist, multipolar, pro-growth policies, it clearly falls well short of the mark and the Turkish voters made their choice accordingly.
Instead, the opposition coalition represented a conduit of frustration against the inability of multiple parties including the main opposition CH to actually convince Turks that there is a viable alternative to Erdogan’s AK. Of course, in any political system there ought to be healthy alternatives to the government, even if the government has a generally strong economic and social record. But in Turkey, even prior to the formation of the present electoral opposition bloc, opponents of the AK more readily defined themselves by what they opposed than by what they stood for. As the Turkish economy has objectively improved greatly under AK rule in areas ranging from growth, trade, employment and wages – simply stating that “we are opposed to what the AK and Erdogan stand for” was never going to be enough to inspire genuinely undecided and non-partisan voters that the alternative is sufficiently attractive vis-a-vis the status quo. The overwhelming results in favour of Erdogan and his AK party have proved that a fragmented opposition was no match for the well oiled political machine that is the modern AK party.
Even the CH Party which historically does stand for easily defined and presently tangible policies, ran a campaign based on a combination of cynical oppositionism, pro-Europeanism at a time when the EU itself is experiencing multiple crises and a desire to present CH Presidential candidate Muharrem Ince as a man who is essentially a poor man’s Erdogan. In terms of his campaigning style, Ince staged the kind of rallies that Erdogan pioneered and continues to master, while in spite of claiming that secularism is in danger, Ince simultaneously flaunted his pious credentials, all the while coalescing with a party who feels Erdogan is far too secular.
In a word, the Turkish’s opposition’s modus operandi was opportunism and little else. While Ince and other opposition figures have grown fond of saying that Erdogan had become weak, compromised and was past his prime, the optics of the entire opposition campaign suggest a desperate attempt to unseat Erdogan and the AK after years of failing to stop the forward momentum of the governing party and President. In other words, if Erdogan was as weak as Ince says, he wouldn’t have tried so hard to unseat him using every political trick in the book – the kind resorted to by opposition groups confused about their own ideology and certain only that they risk losing credibility if they fail in yet another election.
As it turned out, rumours that the economic “bubble was about to burst” (something explored and refuted in a piece that can be read here), combined with predictable party loyalists and an odd combination of secular Europeanists in addition to hard-core Islamists failed to capture the hearts and minds of Turkish voters who both embraced the status quo while rejecting the overtures of a confused opposition.
Apart from his own party loyalists, Erdogan and the AK have shown themselves to be not only a safe pair of hands but an independent one. Turkish voters clearly voted in an election that represented a referendum on the direction of Turkish economic, foreign and civic policy. In each case the vote was a strong endorsement for Erdogan’s fiercely independent streak in both foreign and domestic affairs combined with a total lacklustre showing of support for an opposition that offered nothing to Turks except negativity. Ultimately a message of domestic clarity and international multipolarity beat a message of opposition for the sake of it.