This article is part of a longer report from MEI's Turkey Program on the upcoming Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections, Turkey's 2023 Elections: Perspectives on a Critical Vote.

On May 14, Turkish voters are headed to the polls for twin elections — presidential and parliamentary — that are expected to shape the country’s political trajectory for years to come. More than 60 million voters in Turkey and some 3.5 million voters abroad are registered to cast their ballots. While the presidential race has generated wide interest in the international media, there is little informed discussion when it comes to the parliamentary elections, which will select 600 deputies. Unlike the presidential elections, which quickly turned into a tight contest between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the main opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the parliamentary races are more unpredictable at this point.

Electoral alliances

Twenty-six parties are competing in this year’s parliamentary campaign, though half of them have joined various electoral coalitions. The ruling People’s Alliance, currently led by President Erdoğan, is composed of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Turkish ultra-nationalist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and Great Unity Party (BBP), the Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP) and the Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR), and, surprisingly, the Democratic Left Party (DSP), a fringe center-left faction that was once the leading member in a former coalition government (1999-2002).

The opposition Nation Alliance is also a diverse six-party coalition, representing almost the entire political spectrum: from the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and moderate Turkish nationalist Good (İYİ) Party to four minor right-wing parties, including two splinter parties founded by former AKP ministers, the Future Party (GP) and Democracy and Justice Party (DEVA).

The leftist Labor and Freedom bloc, led by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), is the second major opposition alliance. It includes six other minor leftist parties, such as the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP). Among factions running independently, only the Homeland Party (MP), established by Muharrem İnce, CHP’s former presidential candidate in the 2018 elections who resigned from his former party to run for the presidency again, carries some electoral weight.

To enter parliament, a party either needs to obtain 7% of the vote nationwide or join an alliance that does, according to the electoral law amended last year. This rule encourages minor parties to run as part of electoral alliances to overcome the high electoral threshold, even though seat allocations are distributed proportionally according to the D'Hondt method. Those parties running under their own party logos and lists in the same alliance will, therefore, compete against each other as well.

Surprisingly, despite the obvious electoral advantages of nominating candidates under a single party banner, the three main alliances failed to prepare a joint candidate list. Most significantly, except for HÜDA-PAR and DSP, the other four parties of the People’s Alliance are fielding their own candidates under their own logo. Given their minor status, the BBP and YRP are not expected to attract much support from the AKP electorate but may nonetheless cost the ruling party a few seats in tight parliamentary races. However, this same decision by the MHP leadership, which obtained an 11.7% vote share in the 2018 general elections, could prove decisive in preventing the People’s Alliance from attaining a majority.

By contrast, the Nation Alliance achieved a higher degree of success in inter-party negotiations for its parliamentary lists. Although they are competing under their own party logos nationally, the two leading parties of the alliance — namely, the CHP and İYİ — decided to merge their candidate lists in 16 provinces. Meanwhile, 76 candidates from the other four right-wing parties will run under the CHP logo, though approximately 30 candidates are placed in safe electoral seats in CHP strongholds, in metropolitan areas like Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. Arguably, the CHP leadership hopes to create synergy at the polls that would enable Kılıçdaroğlu to win the presidency and push its vote share above 30% to compensate for the allocated seats. However, the presence of former AKP politicians among DEVA and GP candidates may motivate some traditional CHP voters to cast their ballots for İYİ or the Homeland Party.

Except for TİP, which will compete separately in 49 provinces, all the other political parties that make up the Labor and Freedom Alliance decided to run their candidates under the banner of the Green Left Party (YSP). Although the HDP is the leftist bloc’s leading party, its leadership decided on this course because it faces a closure case at the Constitutional Court. Meanwhile, TİP’s choice to run under its own banner led to an internal crisis within the coalition, as other parties criticized this decision for splitting their vote in a critical election. With only a handful of energetic members of parliament, TİP has, in recent months, mobilized young leftist voters with its hardened opposition against Erdoğan and effective use of digital media. It hopes to obtain 3% of the vote (the threshold to receive public funding) and 20 deputies in the legislature.

Election outcomes: Trends and scenarios

There are several possible scenarios for the parliamentary composition after the upcoming elections. The government’s mismanagement of the economy and incompetence in the aftermath of the devastating February 2023 earthquakes are expected to reduce the incumbent vote share. That said, unlike in the presidential elections, in which Erdoğan is no longer the clear favorite, the ruling People’s Alliance is still expected to win more parliamentary seats than the Nation Alliance, according to estimates by reliable polling agencies. The AKP is predicted to become the top party in a majority of the 87 electoral districts across the country, thereby securing the marginal (swing) seats available in each area. Some analysts suggest that due to the divided nature of the opposition camp, even 43% or 44% of the vote may be sufficient for the ruling alliance to retain its parliamentary majority. According to most polls, the AKP has not fallen below 35%, while the MHP is projected to get approximately 7%. Of course, this result would still represent a major electoral decline for the AKP and the MHP, which obtained 42.6% and 11.1% of the total vote share and 290 and 49 seats in the 2018 general elections, respectively.

By contrast, the likelihood of the Nation Alliance gaining a parliamentary majority is very low. CHP lawmakers lead municipal governments across Turkey’s major metropolitan areas, so the party may very well expand its vote share and the number of its parliamentary deputies in those larger urban districts. The CHP joint list, which includes four minor right-wing parties, may also draw support from swing voters in some conservative provinces. However, these electoral windfalls will probably not be sufficient to get the Nation Alliance to 301 seats. Neither the CHP nor the İYİ Party has a strong organizational presence in sparsely populated Anatolian provinces that are overrepresented in terms of parliamentary seats. Both parties similarly have low levels of electoral support in the Kurdish-populated eastern region, where the pro-Kurdish movement is predominant, except for Kılıçdaroğlu’s hometown of Tunceli.

A more likely scenario is a hung parliament in which neither alliance gains a majority, with the pro-Kurdish YSP finding itself in a strong bargaining position. Despite internal rifts in the leftist coalition, TİP’s ability to spoil the opposition vote is most likely limited to major metropolitan districts with sizable urban secular constituencies in Istanbul and Izmir. Therefore, the YSP can repeat the HDP’s performance in the 2018 general elections, when it won 67 deputies with 11.7% of the vote. Despite repeated government crackdowns since 2015, with a recent wave of arrests on April 25, the pro-Kurdish movement retains its political presence in the eastern provinces, where it is expected to win an overwhelming majority of the parliamentary seats, and enjoys strong ties to Kurdish voters across the country.

Post-election scenarios

The results of the parliamentary elections will have major political and electoral implications. In case the presidential election advances to a second round, Erdoğan could spin any result besides an outright Nation Alliance majority in parliament to his advantage. Should his People’s Alliance win a parliamentary majority but the presidential election goes to a second round, Erdoğan will presumably try to convince voters not to cast their ballots for Kılıçdaroğlu in the May 28 presidential runoff so as to avoid a divided government. Under a hung parliament scenario, however, Erdoğan may attempt to scare Turkish nationalist voters by portraying himself as the only leader capable of resisting the pro-Kurdish alliance becoming a key actor in the next term.

Due to the highly polarized political arena in Turkey, a cohabitation scenario under either leader as president would usher in a very contentious period for the foreseeable future. Cohabitation under an Erdoğan presidency might lead to executive aggrandizement, since a reelected Erdoğan would seek to erode parliamentary powers further, while attributing blame to the legislature for not resolving the country’s pressing problems. By contrast, cohabitation under the CHP leader could turn the soft-spoken Kılıçdaroğlu, who already leads a very diverse coalition, into a lame duck president. Faced with a strong parliamentary opposition headed by the People’s Alliance and massive problems on the home front, Kılıçdaroğlu would be forced to negotiate deals with Turkish and Kurdish nationalists to implement his legislative agenda. This unmanageable scenario would raise the likelihood of an early election. Either way, the outcome of the May 2023 general elections will shape Turkey’s political trajectory for the foreseeable future.


Berk Esen is an Assistant Professor of Political Science in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Sabancı University in Istanbul.

Photo by Ali Balikci/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

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