Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) are hoping to remain at the head of the table in what, according to recent polls, is expected to be the closest race in the country’s recent electoral history.
After two decades in power, a win for Erdoğan would consolidate his vision of the future of the country, as well as the presidential system he ushered in.
On the international stage, Erdoğan has been playing a high-wire act on topics such as the war in Ukraine and who should join NATO. But he also faces domestic concerns, such as an escalating economic crisis, soaring inflation, and criticism of the government’s handling of February’s deadly earthquakes, which devastated large swathes of the country.
Meanwhile, the main opposition coalition is made up of an eclectic mix of six political parties. First and foremost, a win for them would mean a return to a parliamentary system of governance.
Looming concerns include how exactly voting will take place in the earthquake zone, how voting will be monitored, and whether Erdoğan would concede and step down if he loses.
Here’s what you need to know.
How does it all work?
Around 61 million voters from across Turkey’s 87 electoral districts will head to the polls on Sunday, May 14.
Meanwhile, some 3.4 million eligible overseas voters — 1.5 million of them in Germany alone — will likely have already cast their ballots.
Polling stations — which are set up in public schools — open at 8 a.m. on election day and close at 5 p.m. At 9 p.m. media can start reporting, and unofficial results are expected to start trickling in around midnight.
As a clearer picture emerges early Monday morning, there could be a victory announcement if one candidate has clearly won — although official results from the country’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) could take a few days.
If no presidential candidate receives over 50 percent of the votes, however, a second round will be held between the two top candidates on Sunday, May 28. If that happens, overseas voting will be held from May 20 to 24.
What’s on the ballot?
The country’s parliamentary and presidential elections take place at the same time, with voters receiving two separate ballots.
There are four candidates on the presidential ballot, who have either been nominated by a party that passed the 5 percent threshold in the previous parliamentary election or secured 100,000 signatures from voters. However, only three of them will actually be running, as one of them — Muharrem İnce — withdrew after ballots were printed, just three days before the election.
The selection for the country’s 600-seat Grand National Assembly is a more complicated affair. The YSK has allowed 26 political parties and 151 local independent candidates to run — though not all parties are running in every province. For parties to enter parliament, they have to pass a 7 percent electoral threshold — or be part of an alliance that does. There is no such limit for independent candidates.
What exactly does such a crowded ballot look like? An unwieldy meter-long sheet of paper!
Who’s running for parliament?
Of the 26 parties and five alliances on the ballot, here are the major players:
The People’s Alliance: Representing the current parliamentary majority, the alliance consists of the ruling conservative AKP, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the Islamist and ultranationalist Great Unity Party, and the Islamist New Welfare Party — with all four parties appearing on the ballot.
However, many of the AKP’s other former partners have deserted it of late, leading the alliance to turn to smaller parties for help — including the Free Cause Party, which is associated with the Kurdish Hizbullah.
The Nation Alliance: Also known as the “Table of Six,” the main opposition alliance brings together a disparate array of ideologies, all focused on bringing back the country’s parliamentary system, as well as pledges to swiftly reduce inflation, increase per capita income, return Syrian and Afghan refugees back to their countries, and resume talks on EU membership.
The alliance features the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), the hard-right nationalist splinter Good Party (İYİ), the center-right Democracy and Progress Party, and the Future Party — both led by AKP defectors — as well as the Democrat Party and the Felicity Party. While the Good Party will be appearing on the ballot, all other coalition members will be running under the CHP banner.
The Labor and Freedom Alliance: This left-leaning alliance technically consists of the Green Left Party (YSP) and the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP). However, the YSP itself boasts candidates from four different parties, including the pro-Kurdish Democratic People’s Party (HDP) — the third-largest opposition party in the country. The HDP isn’t running candidates for parliament under its own name due to a pending court case that could see it shut down.
Who’s running for president?
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan: The joint candidate of the People’s Alliance, Erdoğan’s campaign has emphasized his vision for the “Century of Turkey,” showcasing projects realized throughout his years in power, as well as plans to rebuild areas affected by the earthquakes. If he wins, this would be Erdoğan’s third term, which technically goes against Turkey’s constitution. However, a YSK ruling stated that his first term could be counted as starting in 2018 (when the new presidential system came in) rather than when he actually took office in 2014. That means he can run again.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu: The joint candidate of the Nation Alliance, the head of the CHP is Erdoğan’s main rival. Kılıçdaroğlu has received open backing from the HDP — as well as the rest of the Labor and Freedom Alliance — and is running on a platform of justice and accountability, promising to reverse many of Erdoğan’s policies, his consolidation of power under the presidency, and bring “spring” to the country. Though often characterized as mild-mannered, the former bureaucrat has also been known to dial up the rhetoric when criticizing Erdoğan’s “one-man rule.”
Sinan Oğan: A former MHP member, the final candidate is a nationalist nominee from the right-wing Ancestral Alliance. Though he is unlikely to win, Oğan can divert some of the nationalist vote, particularly from those who find the Good Party to have shifted too close to the center and the MHP too far to the right. Oğan is also in support of returning the country to a parliamentary system.
How are the votes counted?
According to the YSK, once polls close, the counting of votes in every single ballot box is supervised by a four-to-seven-person committee. Registered volunteers and citizens are also allowed to observe.
Each individual ballot is then opened, shown to the committee and then read aloud. As you can imagine, this takes a long time. Once everyone is happy, it’s off to the local district’s electoral council accompanied by security forces.
The votes are then entered into the YSK’s online system in front of party representatives. And the official count is later verified by political parties and volunteer organizations.
Will voters show up?
Turkey usually boasts high voter turnout, and this year is projected to be one of its highest yet, with a recent poll suggesting it could be around 84 percent. There will also be close to 5 million first-time voters, and overseas voting has seen higher participation than in recent years.
Of course, one of the biggest concerns is how the elections will be held in the earthquake zone — formerly home to 14 percent of the country’s registered voters and once an AKP stronghold. Of the millions that have left the region since the disaster, only a fraction were able to move their voter registrations in time, according to the YSK.
Those who missed the tight deadline will now have to return to the region to vote, and special polling centers will be set up where public buildings are no longer standing. In order to help aid those in need and boost turnout, campaigns will be running buses to the region, and civil society organizations have started Askıda Bilet — ticket on the hook — a campaign collecting donations to buy bus tickets to the region. However, most votes in the region likely won’t be cast.