Some first thoughts about the 2023 Turkish elections

Erdoğan did not win, but he did not lose either. Memet Uludag shares their thoughts on a disappointing night for the Left in Turkey’s 2023 presidential and parliamentary elections.


The election results at a glance

Erdoğan has been in power since 2002. During his time in power, his party won numerous local/national/presidential elections as well as multiple referenda. In the 2023 election however, he didn’t win the presidential race. There will be a second round on May 28 between him (49.35%) and the opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu (44.98%). Nevertheless, he didn’t lose either.

The unofficial parliamentary results suggest an unsatisfactory result for the opposition. Led by Erdoğan’s, the Peoples Alliance got 49.32% of the vote and 322 seats (Erdoğan’s AKP: 35.40% – 266 MPs; Far-Right MHP: 10.06% – 51 MPs; Other right-wing parties: 3.85% – 5 MPs) compare to the opposition Nation’s Alliance’s 35.21% of the vote and 212 seats (Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP: 25.97% – 168 MPs; Far-Right İYİ: 9.84% – 44 MPs) and the Labour and Freedom Alliance who got 10.47% of the vote and 66 seats (Kurdish led HDP (or YSP): 8.77% – 62 MPs; Left-wing TİP: 1.70% – 4 MPs).

With nearly 50% AKP and their allies are well ahead of the rest and command majority in the parliament. The far right MHP have also increase their vote. The Kemalist/nationalist CHP are yet again stuck around 25%. For the past 20 years, it seems, they can’t go above this figure. The Kurdish HDP have performed below expectations.

So what happened and why?

How was there no defeat for AKP? With nearly 90% voter turnout it’s not voters apathy. There has been a serious economic crisis, rising cost of living and inflation. The sitting government has badly managed the earthquake disaster and floods and shown increasingly more authoritarian rule. Yet, they still perform above expectations at the polling booth.

There is huge disappointment even depression among Kılıçdaroğlu supporters. I am disappointed. Not because the opposition didn’t win but Erdoğan and his party didn’t lose. And the project of socialism has made little or no gain compared to rising far-right, nationalist, reactionary forces.

Some will say – as they did after many elections before – that people are stupid and vote like sheep. That would be a typical Kemalist (modernization philosophy of the transition era between Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Turkey) response. As before, this will prove their snobbery towards the working class and their inability to admit their mistakes and the failures of their politics. Erdoğan and his party didn’t lose. Not because they were brilliant but because the politics of the opposition was/is not good.

It is clear. A big majority of the working class people don’t trust and have not forgotten or forgiven the Kemalist CHP and their past. Despite the efforts by Kılıçdaroğlu to present a reformed party (especially in relation to Muslim working classes) they are not winning support.

The opposition bloc promised social-political reforms but it is clear that people didn’t believe them. They did not run a left wing campaign. They ran a nationalist/populist one. They have targeted refugees. Their campaign included racism, nationalism and even militarism. The government has ‘better’ and stronger versions of these.

But the key message is clear. People don’t trust the Kemalists, even if they don’t like Erdogan’s rule and the AKP government, they don’t look up to the opposition.

What about the Left?

Were a serious, progressive, radical left that can relate to the working classes? Sorry, but nowhere really. The Communists didn’t even register with their tiny votes. Yet, again. No surprise here. Kemalist left and socialists are no different. The Turkish left continues to suffer from its historic co-option to and defence of Kemalism.

The Kurdish HDP have somewhat underperformed. Their claims to be a party of all-Turkey (not just party of Kurds and the Kurdish region) was always vague and never had political clarity about it. They have formed strange alliances with some of the marginal-sectarian-Stalinist and socialist groups which have gained them nothing. The HDP must clarify its political vision. There are lots of challenges and problems here.

Today, all seems very quiet

What happens now?

28 May is the second round for presidential race. The results are close enough. The race for the second round of the presidential election will be decided by a far right candidate eliminated with 5% vote. At a press conference he said he will support the candidate that will give him reassurances for tackling terrorism and deport refugees. Both candidates are engaging with him to win his support. He wants the Kurdish HDP to be criminalised. Guess what, he will get what he wants. And I will vote for whoever he doesn’t support.