March 8, 2023 | Flash Brief

Turkey’s Opposition Picks Candidate to Challenge Erdogan

March 8, 2023 | Flash Brief

Turkey’s Opposition Picks Candidate to Challenge Erdogan

Latest Developments

An alliance of six parties joined together on Monday to nominate the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, as its candidate for president in the May 14 elections. The group of opposition parties, which calls itself the “Nation Alliance,” views this year’s election as the first serious opportunity to oust Recep Tayyip Erdogan and reverse Turkey’s slide into authoritarian rule during Erdogan’s tenure.

While Erdogan’s incumbency offers him major advantages, he is hampered by Turkey’s poor economy, high inflation, and growing public outrage over the mishandled response to the earthquake that hit southeastern Turkey on February 6, killing approximately 46,000 people and affecting some 10 million others.

Expert Analysis

“The recent earthquake that hit Turkey could be a game changer for the government’s electoral calculations. There is widespread resentment and anger toward Erdogan’s inadequate handling of the relief and rescue efforts. Many believe that Erdogan is uniquely concerned with containing the political fallout from the disaster. This could lead him to attempt to delay the elections as he seeks to avoid being voted out of power.” Sinan Ciddi, FDD Non-Resident Senior Fellow

Kilicdaroglu Is a Controversial Choice

Kilicdaroglu, 73, is a retired Turkish social security administration bureaucrat and has led the CHP since 2010. He has a reputation for being honest and has criticized Erdogan’s strongman rule and corruption, vowing to reestablish the rule of law and democratic governance. Still, critics say he is too old, colorless, and uncharismatic and has spent too much time as opposition leader without scoring significant victories against Erdogan.

Erdogan’s Control Ruined the Economy

Erdogan became prime minister in 2003 after his Justice and Development Party (AKP) won the 2002 election. Early under his stewardship, Turkey’s economy grew rapidly, and additional AKP victories followed in 2007 and 2011. But Erdogan began showing authoritarian tendencies after the violent suppression of the Gezi Park protests in 2013 and a failed coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan traded his premiership for the office of president in 2014 and, in 2017, pushed through a referendum to abolish the premiership and endow the presidency with unprecedented powers.

Through the years, Erdogan has consolidated his leadership by installing loyalists in key government, military, and media positions. Turkey’s economy has suffered dramatically in recent years as Erdogan has personally intervened to keep bank interest rates low and devalue the Turkish lira. Last November, inflation hit a 24-year high of 85.5 percent. Two years ago, the lira traded at five to the dollar; now it is at 19.

Reinstituting Turkish Democracy

Erdogan’s opposition sees the election as the last hope to reinstitute democratic governance in Turkey after its erosion under Erdogan. Its priority will be restoring trust and competent governance. The alliance has promised to return the country to a parliamentary government, but such a reform will be difficult, as it requires a two-thirds majority in parliament to implement.

Related Analysis

Turkey After Erdogan,” by Sinan Ciddi

Erdogan faces growing backlash over earthquake mismanagement,” by Sinan Ciddi