Last month, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was reelected president of Turkey, a position he has held since 2014. The race was a close one in which no candidate won a majority of the votes, necessitating an unprecedented runoff that delivered the victory to the incumbent. Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak explains how Erdogan outmaneuvered his main opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu:
In retrospect, the 2023 elections will be remembered as the most challenging general elections for Erdogan’s political survival. The deteriorating economy, the devaluation of the Turkish lira vis-à-vis the U.S. dollar, the high cost of living, and the mishandling of the February 6 earthquake disaster—which claimed more than 50,000 lives—all significantly risked Erdogan’s chances of winning.
Thus, in order not to waste a single vote, Erdogan had no choice but to work on [expanding his multiparty coalition, known as CI]. This act of survival paved the way for the CI to include controversial radical Islamist parties such as the legal wing of the Turkish [branch of the] Hizballah terrorist organization, the Free Cause Party.
In the other camp, seizing all the abovementioned [factors militating against Erdogan] as a historic political opportunity, the secular Republican People’s Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu forcibly rallied the Turkish opposition around his leadership, believing that this time he had a real chance to defeat Erdogan. Despite this assumption, in retrospect the serious dispute and disagreement among the six party leaders around Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy [projected] a very negative, unstable, chaotic, and inefficient image that led the Turkish constituency to fear a potentially unstable future if [his coalition] were to win.
Apart from the lack of charisma perhaps, Kilicdaroglu’s most important vulnerability was his Alevi identity. The Alevi faith is a heterodox Islamic belief system which is an offshoot of Shiite Islam. . . . Seeing this element in his identity as a serious obstacle, Kilicdaroglu decided to present himself as Turkey’s Barack Obama—a minority leader who deserves to break through the glass ceiling imposed by the majority. [But] Turkey is not the United States and Kemal Kilicdaroglu is not Barack Obama.