As reported by Reuters on 15 May 2023, neither Turkish incumbent President Tayyip Erdogan, nor his main opposition rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, managed to pass the 50% threshold in the presidential elections. The two candidates now face a run-off vote on 28 May.
World Watch Research analyst Michael Bosch comments: “Some polls predicted a win for Kilicdaroglu, but President Erdogan has again surprised friend and foe by winning 49.5% of the vote. Kilicdaroglu managed to unite the opposition, heading an alliance of six different parties, but with 44.9% he is unlikely to win the run-off vote. Nevertheless, the opposition did remarkably well considering the current government’s strong control over media and Internet, as outlined in a report by Human Rights Watch on 10 May 2023. In addition, Erdogan and his AKP did not hesitate to use inflammatory language during his campaign, accusing the opposition of siding with terrorists. AKP’s Interior Minister even referred to the opposition alliance as ‘a coup-attempt by the West’. In sharp contrast, Kilicdaroglu is soft-spoken and ‘his trademark gesture for the election was a heart-shape gesture with his hands’ (BBC News, 17 May 2023). His stated intention is to be a president for all Turks and reverse Erdogan’s autocratic, one-man rule.”
Michael Bosch continues: “Erdogan’s near win in the first round, combined with his nationalist-religious People Alliance (AKP) gaining the majority of seats in the parliamentary elections, which were held at the same time, shows that he still appeals to a significant number of Turkish citizens. Even an ongoing economic crisis, including very high inflation rates, did not deter them from voting for Erdogan and his alliance. For Turkish Christians, a Kilicdaroglu win on 28 May would most likely mean a more positive government approach to Turkish minorities, including religious minorities. However, Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) has been a staunch defender of Turkish secularism in the past, a version of secularism in which all religious communities are kept under strict state-control. However, in the last decade, Kilicdaroglu has transformed the CHP which now even includes parliamentarians wearing head-scarves (something which would have been unthinkable not many years ago). That said, a win for Erdogan will probably mean that Sunni Islam (as understood and guided by Erdogan) will continue to grow in influence, while the public space for religious minorities, including Christians, will remain very limited.”