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Erdoğan is Losing but the Turkish Opposition is Far from an Assured Victory

Turkey’s upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14 could determine whether the country returns to democracy or continues down an autocratic path. The governing coalition led by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has created a presidential system with limited checks and balances on executive power, leading to widespread corruption and economic instability. The main opposition party, the People’s Republican Party (CHP), leads an alliance of six political parties with the goal of transitioning to a strengthened parliamentary system. Challenges to the opposition include a heavily tilted playing field in favor of the government, a weaponized judiciary, and tight government control of the media. The opposition alliance has struggled to overcome its ideological diversity and fragility, with some viewing CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu as uninspiring and out of touch with conservative voters. The scandal of Kılıçdaroğlu stepping on a prayer rug with his shoes on has provided ammunition for Erdoğan to portray him as disconnected from the values of religious voters. The opposition alliance plans to nominate Kılıçdaroğlu and popular mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem İmamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, as vice-presidential candidates to appeal to a larger constituency of voters. However, the internal precarity of the alliance is reflected in Meral Akşener’s reluctance to campaign with Kılıçdaroğlu and her preference to highlight her ties with the mayors. Muharrem İnce, an energetic and populist campaigner, could also become a spoiler by drawing support from young voters who are disillusioned with Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu. If the presidential election advances to a second round, Erdoğan’s failure to win could be seen as a sign of weakness and encourage anti-Erdoğan voters to coalesce behind Kılıçdaroğlu. However, the second round may not be positive news for him either, as he will need to form a broader coalition to overcome Erdoğan’s strong base and win the election.

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