Nearly a month and a half before the most critical presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey's modern history, it is still too early to make a guess as to who will win: all indicators show that May 14 will be an extremely tight race. The results may even be inconclusive: there may be chaos, vote rigging, allegations and objections from both sides, the electoral board having to struggle with which side it should politically favor, potential re-runs in disputed districts, further disputes and even potential street violence.
An overall re-vote is also one of the possibilities. Another is that the country's Islamist strongman, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, battling for his survival after 21 corrupt and autocratic years in power, wins the presidential race but that his party loses its parliamentary majority. This result will mean governmental and administrative chaos.
Erdoğan's miraculous appeal to tens of millions of conservative and nationalist Turks seems to be waning. The economy is reeling from double-digit inflation rates, measured, officially, at 55% in February. The recent devastating twin earthquakes in the country's southeast will cost Turkey's ailing economy an additional $104 billion. Corruption and nepotism are rampant, while the average Turk earns barely $9,000 a year. Another key vulnerability for the economy is the current account deficit. It jumped 43% year-on-year to $9.85 billion in January, the highest monthly level since the data was first collected in 1984. The Turkish lira has lost about 60% of its value against the US dollar since March 2021.
The rule of law has evaporated tragically, in line with Erdoğan's dramatic shift from Turkey's "greatest reformer" to brutal oppressor. Polls show that nearly 70% of Turks do not trust the country's courts.
It appears that the state machinery and top brass in the bureaucracy are bracing for a shock. "For the first time in 20 years I will not vote for him [Erdoğan]. We've had enough of him. There are scores of bureaucrats of my rank who think the same," a director general at a critical government office told this author on March 25. "Why have you come to your senses so late?" I asked him. The director general, appointed by Erdoğan, ignored the question.
The main opposition, the Republican People's Party (CHP), says that civil servants are already sending in their resumes in preparation for a new order. They are apparently sensing that this could be the end of Erdoğan's one-man Islamist show and are simply hedging their bets. The numbers also speak. Just weeks before the elections, only 3,000 candidates have applied to Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) to become members of parliament. For the 2018 elections, the number was 8,000.
Polls suggest that although the presidential race will be tight, the gap against Erdoğan is widening. The average of 11 polls conducted in March put the AKP's vote at 32.8% and its ultra-nationalist partner MHP's at 6.5% -- failing to win any parliamentary seats as its nationwide vote fell below the 7% national threshold. By contrast, the CHP-led opposition bloc, with the participation of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, would win a combined 55.4% of the nationwide vote.
Reuters reported that new polls show the opposition's presidential candidate, CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leading against Erdoğan by more than 10 percentage points ahead of elections seen by many as the most consequential in Turkey's history.
Polling in Turkey can be a murky business. But with or without polls, realities spell existential danger for one of the world's most anti-Semitic and disruptive leaders.
Burak Bekdil is an Ankara-based political analyst and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.