Foreign PolicyForeign Policy

Why Turkey experts got the election all wrong

By Sinan Ciddi and Steven A. Cook

17 May 2023 · 4 min read

Editor's Note

Many experts predicted a victory for opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the Turkish presidential election. But as this FP analysis argues, the predictions were based on flawed reasoning.

After a long day, night, and early morning last Sunday and Monday, Turkey’s Supreme Election Council declared that the hard-fought and much-anticipated presidential election would go to a runoff on May 28. Neither incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor his main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, so they will do it all over again. The odds are that Erdogan has the advantage going forward and will extend his two-decade-long leadership for another five years.

It was not supposed to be this way, at least according to a fair number of professional Turkey watchers and observers. This was the moment when the man who some refer to as “Turkey’s Gandhi”—leading a disparate coalition of alleged social democrats, nationalists, technocrats, and Islamists—was supposed to knock off Erdogan, the man who tanked Turkey’s economy and its democracy. There were a few lonely voices in the Twittersphere warning against irrational exuberance, but the admonition fell on deaf ears even after a leading member of Kilicdaroglu’s coalition, the Iyi Party’s Meral Aksener, bolted briefly in March because she did not think he could win. (More people should pay attention to her.)

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