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Turkey likely to face political instability post elections

Article by Emre Caliskan

May 10, 2023

Turkey likely to face political instability post elections

Turkey’s strong man Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces the biggest elections challenge for the first time over his two-decade rule. Whether Erdoğan wins or loses, Turkey is likely to face political instability after the presidential and parliamentary elections that will be held on May 14.


As it currently stands, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the elections, and there are conflicting polls. According to some observers including Economist Intelligence Unit, Erdoğan will either win the election by a slim margin or contest the results.[1] Based on the statements from senior leaders in Erdoğan’s ruling party (Justice and Development Party, AKP), it is very likely that Erdoğan will challenge the results if he loses the elections. The narrative for this has already begun. Turkey’s Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu has claimed that the West, particularly the US, is using the tightly contested elections to stage a political coup. In response to AKP supporters chanting, “We will shoot at your command, we will die at your command,” at a campaign rally in Kayseri, the National Defence Minister Hulusi Akar replied, “Wait, the time will come for that too.”[2]


If Erdoğan wins

Even if Erdoğan wins the presidential elections, the AKP and its coalition, is still likely to lose its parliamentary majority. This is the first time Turkey will face such a scenario since the new presidential system came into force in June 2018. In the likelihood of being unable to pass new legislation through the Parliament, it is expected that Erdoğan will rule the country using executive orders and regulations. The opposition would likely challenge Erdoğan’s decisions in the Constitutional Court, increasing the prospects of political instability in the country.


Another risk factor for Erdoğan’s rule is his health. There have been serious concerns about his well-being for a while, with Erdoğan having had surgery on his lower intestine in 2011. The opposition also claims that Erdoğan suffers from epilepsy. The President has frequently gone on record to deny reports about his health. When visiting a cancer patient in 2012, Erdoğan signalled that he previously suffered from colon cancer.[3] In late April 2023, Erdoğan cancelled three days of in person campaigning, announcing he had a “serious stomach flu” after he fell ill during a live televised interview.[4] Some experts in Ankara believe that Erdoğan will not be able to finish his second presidential term in office due to his current state of health.[5]


The biggest risk for Erdoğan’s rule is the present economic situation in Turkey. Since the end of 2021, Erdoğan’s unorthodox economic policies have kept interest rates low by allowing the depreciation of the Turkish lira against the dollar, aiming to boost exports and support domestic consumption. The Erdoğan-controlled central bank is trying to prevent the further depreciation of the Turkish lira ahead of the elections.[6] This has come at a cost. The Turkish central bank’s net international reserves reduced by 5.4 billion USD in the week of April 14-21, decreasing to 8.3 billion USD. The net reserve excluding swaps was “minus” (-) 49.5 billion USD.[7]


If Erdoğan is re-elected and continues his unorthodox economic policies, the financial crisis in Turkey is likely to deepen, especially following the devastating impact of the February 2023 earthquakes. According to JPMorgan, Turkey’s lira (TL) is likely to drop sharply and could near 30 TL to the dollar after the elections (today, one USD dollar is trading at around 19.5 TL).[8]


Turkey’s worsening economic crisis is likely to bring capital controls. The other possibility is that it triggers a political crisis, instigating a challenge to Erdogan’s political leadership during his future second term in the presidential system.


If the opposition wins

If the opposition wins the presidential elections, Erdoğan’s repressive regime will collapse, and more orthodox economic policies are very likely to be implemented. Separation of powers, rule of law and judicial independence as well as fundamental rights and freedoms are likely to be restored in the country. Nevertheless, Turkey is very likely to face a political crisis in the post-Erdoğan era.


What unites the opposition is anti-Erdoğanism. The six-party alliance includes the social democratic main opposition Republican’s People’s Party (CHP), the nationalist Good (IYI) party, the Future (Gelecek) Party of Ahmet Davutoğlu, who was a prime minister during Erdoğan’s presidency, the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA) party of Ali Babacan, Erdoğan’s former economy minister, and the Felicity Party, the last party of the National Outlook Movement, in which Erdoğan was a member when he was a mayor of Istanbul in between 1994 and 1998. The Kurdish movement’s party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is not in the alliance but is backing the opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu against Erdoğan.


During Erdoğan’s rule, independent institutions in Turkey have been weakened, if not completely disappeared and politicised. The presidential system depends entirely on Erdoğan and his charisma. The Turkish Parliament is almost irrelevant. Neither Erdoğan’s party nor senior party members have power in the Turkish parliamentary political system. In the post Erdoğan period, there is a need to build a new Turkey with independent institutions, especially within the bureaucracy and the judiciary. The members of the anti-Erdoğan opposition, which have very little in common with each other, are very likely to face significant challenges in establishing a new system after Erdoğan’s rule in Turkey. Indeed, Turkey is very likely to face political instability as was the case in the periods after previous strong leaders of Turkey, such as Adnan Menderes and Turgut Özal.


According to Turkish media reports, CHP is likely to determine the economic policies after the elections. However, Bilge Yilmaz from IYI Party, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, is reported to be due to take up the post of economy minister.[9] IYI Party and CHP advocate increasing public spending.[10] Meanwhile, Ali Babacan is expected to be the vice president in charge of the Turkish economy.[11] His party publicly opposes further public spending and calls for fiscal discipline.[12]


In the event of a disagreement among coalition partners, for instance in relation economic policymaking, the heads of the six parties, who will become the president and deputy presidents of the new system, are expected to come together to find solutions to political problems.


The opposition will have to shoulder the burden of Erdoğan’s collapsed economy. Kılıçdaroğlu argues that a total of 418 billion USD has been transferred since 2002 to private companies under the AKP governments through government contracts and other deals. He claims five conglomerates have benefited from multibillion-dollar contracts from infrastructure projects to energy, pledging to nationalise the assets of the ‘gang of five’.


Based on statements by the opposition parties, in a post-Erdoğan system many assets and services will be nationalised. Government contracts are likely to be cancelled or expropriated. If Kılıçdaroğlu goes after the 418 billion USD state contracts, this is very likely to trigger a serious economic crisis in Turkey as well as political instability.


Even if economic issues were relatively easy to solve in the six-party alliance system, other challenges for Turkey will remain, including the Syrian refuges and the Kurdish issue. Will the opposition be able to send Syrian refuges back home as promised? If the nationalist IYI Party controls the Interior Ministry as reports suggest, will the opposition block continue Erdoğan’s oppressive anti-Kurdish policies, or will they reduce the pressure on the Kurdish movement by releasing their senior party members from prison, including its former chair Selahattin Demirtaş?


Once in power, the opposition aims to improve relations with the European Union (EU) and the United States. Nevertheless, differences between Turkey and the West on Cyprus, Greece and even Libya would continue. Turkey is likely to continue its balancing relations with Russia and China. The difference over the opposition parties in Syria, especially the Kurdish presence in the region, is very like to remain a divisive issue between Turkey and the West. Kılıçdaroğlu wants to have a new refugee deal with EU. To achieve that, Turkey would loosen controls on its borders, leading to an influx of refugees into the EU countries as Erdoğan has done in the past.


The May 14 general and presidential elections may bring about an end to the Erdoğan’s rule in Turkey. But this is unlikely to be the end of Turkey’s economic and political instability.


Emre Caliskan is a FPC Research Fellow.


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


[1] Economist Intelligence Unit, Turkey’s critical elections: What an opposition win would mean for the country, April 2023,

[2] Cumhuriyet, Hulusi Akar’dan ‘Vur de vuralım, öl de ölelim’ sloganlarına yanıt: Onun da zamanı gelecek, April 2023,

[3] Haberturk, “Yani aynı hastadaşız”, May 2012,

[4] AP News, Turkey’s Erdogan cancels 3rd day of election appearances, April 2023,

[5] Interview with a senior journalist based in Ankara 4, April 2023; and Interview with a deputy chair of a Turkish opposition party, 4 April 2023.

[6] Beril Akman, Turkey Holds Off from Rate Cut to Spare Lira Before Election, Bloomberg, April 2023,

[7] Naki Bakir, Swap hariç net rezerv eksi (-) 49,5 milyar dolar, Dünya, May 2023,

[8] Marc Jones, JPMorgan sees Turkey lira diving towards 30 per dollar after elections, Reuters, April 2023,,to%20its%20unorthodox%20economic%20policies

[9] Kerim Karakaya, Beril Akman and Onur Ant, A Wharton Professor Pledges Revolution in Turkish Economy After Elections, Bloomberg, March 2023,

[10] Haberturk, Cumhurbaşkanı adayı Kılıçdaroğlu: En düşük memur maaşı 21 bin 265 lira olacak, May 2023,; CHP Genel Başkanı Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, Değirmenköy Buğday ve Mazot Desteği Dağıtım Törenine Katıldı, CHP Webpage, 16 September 2022, (last accessed 7 May 2023); Meral Akşener’den 100 bin öğretmen atama sözü, Dünya, 7 May 2023.

[11] Para Analiz, Reuters: Millet İttifakı Babacan’ı ekonominin başına getirmeyi planlıyor, March 2023,

[12] Sema Kizilarslan, DEVA Partisi “Ekonomi ve Finans Politikaları Eylem Planı”nı açıkladı: Hedef enflasyonu tek haneye çekmek, Medyascope, Februray 2022,

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