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Here are 4 must-read articles about the crucial issues at play in Turkey’s presidential runoff.


Turkish voters do go to the polls on May 28, 2023for the second time in the month – this time facing a choice between a sifted field of two candidates, each promising to lead the country in a very different direction.

The fact that the presidential vote has moved to a second round is no big surprise – polls had predicted that none of the original candidates would get above the 50% needed to be declared the outright winner. Nor does the binary choice come as a shock to voters. Turks have long known that the likely option would be between holding on incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğanwho has ruled the country for two decades, or throw their fate into battle opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

But the fact that Erdoğan is going into the second round as a favorite, with more votes in the first round, is something that previous polls had not predicted.

Here are four stories from The Conversation’s Turkish election coverage that help contextualize the choice in front of voters, and how it could affect the nation’s future direction.

1. Erdoğan defies the polls

How did Erdoğan enter the second round weekend in such a strong position?

The assumption was that he would have sunk under the combined weight of a faltering economy, concerns about his authoritarian style, and a widespread perception that he had mishandled a devastating earthquake just months before the vote.

But if Salih Yasun, an expert on Turkish politics at Indiana University, noted that Erdoğan had a number of things in store for him as the campaign took shape. First, he was able to use state resources and used control over much of the media to bolster his bid for re-election.

He has also mitigated dwindling support for his AKP party by adding smaller Islamist and nationalist parties to his coalition.

“In doing so, he has allowed his base to vote for coalition parties other than the AKP, while continuing to support his own candidacy within the presidential race,” Yasun wrote.

Meanwhile, his main opponent made several missteps, such as not agreeing to public debates and bypassing primaries to secure his candidacy as opposition leader. Moreover, under Kılıçdaroğlu, the opposition party has become more of an umbrella organization at the expense of presenting a clear social-democratic message, Yasun argued.

Read more: Turkey’s presidential election – how Erdoğan defied the polls to enter the second round as the favorite

2. Claiming counter-terrorism success

There is another possible factor in Erdoğan’s outperformance from the first-round polls: his political use of counter-terrorism.

Just when it seemed the long-standing Turkish leader was struggling to gain any momentum, events played into his hands. On April 30, 2023, the suspected leader of the Islamic State group, Abu al-Hussein al-Husseini al-Qurashi, was reported killed in an apparent Turkish attack in Syria.

Terrorism and political scientists Craig Klein And Scott Bodery noted how Erdoğan took credit for the operation, following a time-tested tactic from leaders around the world.

“The targeted assassination of al-Qurashi was announced three days after Erdoğan fell ill on national TV and the same day he returned to the campaign trail. The counter-terrorism attack provided Erdoğan with a chance to draw domestic attention to his national security credentials, his role in the anti-Islamic state coalition, and his abilities to be an authoritative and strong leader,” Klein and Boddery wrote.

Read more: Turkey’s Erdoğan took over a page from US presidents and boosted re-election campaign by claiming to have killed a terrorist

3. Push scientific and technical references

But it wasn’t just his self-proclaimed counter-terrorism credentials that Erdoğan foisted on voters. If Merve Sancaka lecturer in political economy at Britain’s Loughborough University, noted that the incumbent president focused much of his campaign on what he described as his “great achievements” in putting Turkey firmly on the scientific and technical map.

Erdogan stands next to his Togg T10X, Turkey’s first domestically produced electric car.
Breathe Altan/AFP via Getty Images

While others pointed to rising inflation and a sluggish economy, Erdoğan trumpeted a series of initiatives ahead of the first round of voting. These include plans to send a Turkish astronaut to the International Space Station, the launch of an aerospace and technology festival, and state-of-the-art military projects. He even started driving around in the first “Togg” car – the result of a project to produce a domestically made Turkish national car.

“Erdoğan clearly hoped that these announcements would boost his popularity by creating an image of Turkey becoming a world leader in science and technology,” Sancak wrote.

Read more: How Erdoğan framed his scientific and engineering ‘great achievements’ as part of the election campaign

4. What is the future for Turkey after 100 years?

Later in 2023, Turkey will celebrate its 100th anniversary as a modern republic. Ahmed Kurua political scientist at San Diego State University, argued that what is being presented to the electorate are two different visions before that milestone: a future aligned with that of the country’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, or one that pushes Turkey further down brings an autocratic, religious path.

“Erdoğan is trying to win the elections to present himself as the founder of ‘a new Turkey’, where populist Islamism reigns. Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, wants to revive Atatürk’s secular vision, with certain democratic revisions,” Kuru wrote.

Which way Turkey’s voters go will affect the entire world, Kuru added.

“An Erdoğan victory will signal that the global rise of right-wing populists is still robust enough to dominate a leading Muslim-majority country. A victory for Kılıçdaroğlu, meanwhile, can be celebrated by democrats around the world as a defeat for a populist Islamist leader, despite his control over the media and state institutions.”

Read more: In centenary, Turkish voters will choose between Erdoğan’s conservative path and founder’s modernist vision

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