Notes on another Turkish election catastrophe
Note: I decided not to send the last two regions of ChatGPT-enhanced Global Eyes— Africa and the Americas—on Saturday. I feared overwhelming and annoying you with email. I figured it could wait a day. But yesterday, despite myself, I could concentrate on nothing but the Turkish election. I spent the day waiting nervously, talking to my Turkish friends on Twitter, and watching the results come in, my heart in my mouth.
But don’t touch that dial: I’ll send the rest of Global Eyes when I finish this.
How Erdoğan won again
If you’re looking at the New York Times today, you’ll see only that Erdoğan failed to win a majority. Because neither Erdoğan nor Kılıçdaroğlu reached the 50 percent threshold and won outright, there will be a runoff election in two weeks.
Erdoğan performed badly—so badly that at first, it was possible to think Kılıçdaroğlu was winning; no one had ever seen such low early numbers for Erdoğan before. He lost Istanbul. He lost Ankara. He lost the first round—for the first time in his career.
That there will be a runoff might sound encouraging. But it isn’t. Erdoğan’s alliance has a majority in the parliament, and barring divine intervention, Erdoğan will take the presidency in the next round, probably in a landslide.
The polls were wrong—all of them. Kılıçdaroğlu significantly underperformed expectations. The opposition strategy—about which so many (including me, stupidly) were so hopeful—just didn’t work.
So Erdoğan will be president again. He will probably be president for life.
To understand why, you need to be familiar with two parties, the MHP and the HDP, and their relationship to each other.
The MHP is typically described as “nationalist” or “radical right,” but “xenophobic, fanatically nationalist neo-fascists” is closer. The contemporary MHP also has respectable politicians, if you think politicians who could reasonably be described as Turkish analogues of Marine Le Pen or Georgia Meloni are respectable. I’ve spoken to some in their ranks who are thoughtful and well-spoken, even if I disagree with them. I had lunch once with an MHP parliamentarian who was a fan of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher and imagined himself a politician in their mould. We liked each other. So they’re not all fascists.