News Type

Turkey is bracing for what is expected to be a pivotal moment in its political history as the country gears up to hold parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14, 2023. With a range of significant challenges facing Turkey — from the erosion of democratic institutions to economic instability and concerns about its foreign policy — the outcome of the elections is likely to have far-reaching implications for the country's future.

To shed light on the electoral landscape and the stakes involved, we sat down with Ayça Alemdaroğlu, Associate Director of CDDRL’s Program on Turkey, to discuss the key issues at play and what they mean for Turkey's trajectory.

Turkey will have two elections on Sunday, May 14. Can you talk about why these elections are important?

The upcoming elections in Turkey hold immense importance due to several reasons. The country has faced a multitude of challenges, including the erosion of democratic institutions, political polarization, and a struggling economy. Firstly, the government, led by President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party(AKP), has used its power to silence opposition voices, restrict the press, control the judiciary, and crack down on civil society organizations. These actions have led to fear and intimidation among citizens, creating an environment where dissent is not tolerated. In addition, the government's efforts to centralize power under the presidency have further weakened the checks and balances essential to a functioning democracy. This election is Turkey's chance to reverse the democratic decline.

Secondly, the two major earthquakes that affected 11 cities and millions of people in February exposed the decay in state institutions under the current government, causing significant human and urban destruction. When the current government is responsible for much of this destruction, it will be a mistake to let it lead to the urgent recovery needed in the earthquake region.

Thirdly, Turkey's economy is in disarray due to President Erdogan's erratic economic policies and mismanagement, leading to rising inflation rates, a weakened currency, and economic instability. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to these challenges, further impoverishing the people. In addition, the economic situation has resulted in an exodus of the most educated sections of society, causing a significant setback to Turkey's human development and economic potential. Therefore, Turkey needs a government that can fix these economic problems.

Finally, the elections come at a time when Turkey faces increased tensions with several international actors, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine adds to the existing pressures. The foreign policy stance of the next government will have far-reaching implications for global democracy and security, making it vital for Turkey to be governed democratically and to uphold the rule of law.

The outcome of the elections will decide how these issues will be addressed, and the re-election of President Erdogan and his AKP would further deteriorate the situation. On the other hand, if the opposition coalition wins, they plan to undo Mr. Erdogan's autocratic presidential system of government, shift back to a rational economic policy, release jailed opposition figures and journalists, and, most importantly, restore democratic institutions and practices.

Can you explain the political landscape in Turkey and the major political parties contesting the upcoming elections?

There are two distinct races in Turkey's upcoming elections — one for the presidency and the other for parliament. In the presidential election, four candidates are vying for the position, with Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition party Republican People's Party (CHP), being the strongest contender against President Erdogan. Muharrem Ince, the CHP's 2018 presidential candidate, is also running again. His few percentage points serve no one other than Erdogan in this closely contested race.

There are 26 parties and three election coalitions on the ballot for parliamentary elections. Erdogan's People's Alliance includes his Justice and Development Party (AKP), the ultra-nationalist MHP, and two Islamist fringe parties. The main opposition coalition, known as the Table of Six or Nation Alliance, includes the CHP, the ultra-nationalist Iyi Party, and three other small parties with significant political personalities. The Labor and Freedom Alliance of Turkey's Labor Party and pro-Kurdish Green Left Party support Kilicdaroglu in the presidential race. Polls indicate that Erdogan will be unseated by a small margin and the opposition will win at least a parliamentary majority, which unfortunately may be less than what is needed to make constitutional changes.

What are the key issues and challenges facing Turkey in the lead-up to the upcoming elections, and how are the major political parties addressing these concerns in their campaigns?

Election security is the key issue. Turkey has been grappling with significant election security concerns in recent years. There have been allegations of voter fraud and irregularities in past elections. The independence of the High Electoral Board and the fairness of the electoral process are also of major concern. We have seen how the Board repeated the 2019 Istanbul elections when the ruling party candidate lost it.

In addition, there have been incidents of violence and intimidation at polling stations, which have led to questions about the safety of voters and the integrity of the electoral process. During the current election period, the government has made every effort to delegitimize the contender parties by accusing them of collaborating with terrorist groups. But the attack on the opposition is not just in words. Over the weekend, we saw a violent mob attack one of the opposition leaders, the Istanbul mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, and his audience during a rally in the eastern city of Erzurum. Unfortunately, the police neither intervened to stop the mob nor arrested anyone afterward. Imamoglu responded well, calling his supporters to calm down and retreat and ending the rally prematurely. However, I worry that these violent attacks will ramp up in these last days before the election.

Finally, the upcoming elections are closely watched with concerns about potential interference and attempts to manipulate the results. It is a big question for me and many others if the opposition parties have adequate means and preparations to deter these manipulations. We will soon know the answer.

What critical issues and concerns are shaping the campaign discourse in Turkey, and how might they resonate with American voters?

The condition of the Turkish economy, growing inflation, joblessness, corruption and plundering of Turkey’s resources, and the decline of democratic institutions, freedom, and human rights are prominent problems that the opposition campaign addresses. The government alliance holds a negative campaign accusing the opposition of collaborating with terrorist organizations and portraying it as inept in solving Turkey’s economic problems. The discourse of associating the opposition with terrorism reached a new level last week when the Ministry of Interior declared that if Erdogan loses, they will consider the elections as a coup against the government. This issue would strike a particular chord with American voters.

More importantly, Turkey is the largest country by land area and population in Europe, with an important sphere of influence in Central Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Turkey’s economy, despite its problems, is among the twenty largest economies in the world. Turkey has the second-largest military force in NATO and plays a pivotal role in regional security, as evident in the wars in Ukraine and Syria. If the US government worries about global democracy and security, it will be better off having Turkey governed not by a single man but with democracy and strong institutions, and that is what the opposition promises.

Ayça Alemdaroğlu

Ayça Alemdaroğlu

Research Scholar and Associate Director of CDDRL's Program on Turkey.
Full Biography

Read More

Turkish riot police block the main gate of Boğaziçi University during protests against President Erdogan’s appointment of a new rector. Istanbul, January 4, 2021.

Boğaziçi Resists Authoritarian Control of the Academy in Turkey

Turkey woke up to 2021 with an uproar over a new authoritarian assault on its academic institutions.
Boğaziçi Resists Authoritarian Control of the Academy in Turkey
Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before their meeting on Sept. 3, 2016 in Hangzhou, China.

Erdogan Is Turning Turkey Into a Chinese Client State

With few friends left in the West, Ankara is counting on Beijing for help.
Erdogan Is Turning Turkey Into a Chinese Client State
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech in Ankara on Sept. 5, 2019

Turkey’s Generation Z Turns Against Erdogan

The Turkish leader tried to mold a generation of pious followers. Instead, the country’s youth could bring about his final defeat.
Turkey’s Generation Z Turns Against Erdogan
All News button

In this Q&A, Ayça Alemdaroğlu, Associate Director of the Program on Turkey at the Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law, discusses the key issues and their implications for the country's future.


On February 6, two devastating earthquakes struck a region spanning southern Turkey and northern Syria. One was the largest earthquake in Turkey since 1939. Tens of thousands of people were killed in an event that affected 16 percent of Turkey's population and a cross-section of Turkey's highly diverse society. Meanwhile, Turkey is scheduled to hold general elections in May, when voters will decide whether or not to reelect President Tayyip Erdoğan, who has led the country since 2003 under the banner of the Justice and Development Party. The earthquakes and the elections bring to the fore a number of issues that have been shaping regional politics over the past decade (at least), including the Syrian refugee crisis, demands for Kurdish autonomy, Alevism in Turkish society, the rise (and fall?) of neoliberal development models, and political Islam as a form of democratic governance. Now, in this moment after the earthquakes but before the elections, faculty from Stanford's Program on Turkey—representing the disciplines of History, Literature, Anthropology, and Sociology—will hold a "teach-in on Turkey" for all members of the Stanford community.

Stanford faculty speakers will include Ali Yaycıoğlu (History), Burcu Karahan (Comparative Literature), Serkan Yolacan (Anthropology), Denise Gill (Ethnomusicology), and others.

All Stanford students, staff, and faculty are warmly invited to join this lunchtime discussion. Lunch will be provided for those who RSVP.

This event is co-sponsored by the Sohaib and Sara Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, the Mediterranean Studies Forum, CDDRL's Program on Turkey, and Stanford Global Studies.

Encina Commons
615 Crothers Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Panel Discussions

After winning its battle against the occupying colonial powers during The War of Independence in 1919-1922, Turkey set on a secular, Westernizationist path toward modernization under Mustafa Kemal’s leadership. Turkey spent what can be referred to as its postcolonial period under its founding ideology, Kemalism, which launched a West-oriented secular modernization project that framed the Ottoman system and Islam as inferior, backward, and uncivilized. First forms of what I refer to as “Islamic decolonial thought” emerged against this backdrop in the 1950s, which later developed into a collection of diverse intellectual movements constituting the current Islamic intellectual field (IIF) in Turkey. A constitutive feature of this field is the desire to break what is perceived as the hegemony of European intellectual paradigms, as well as the Kemalist project that has been termed as “self-colonization” by some of the Muslim intellectuals, and establish in their place alternative Islam-based systems of thought and knowledge.

This study examines the Sufi-based political thought of Turkish Muslim poet and writer Necip Fazıl Kısakürek (1904-1983) as one of the pioneers of Islamic decolonial thought in Turkey. Necip Fazıl, who is current President Erdogan’s main ideological inspiration, was the founder and lead writer of The Great East (Büyük Doğu) journal, published in 1943-1978, which is considered to be Turkey’s first Islam-based political journal that was instrumental in inspiring numerous political and intellectual movements currently active in the IIF. This study demonstrates that Necip Fazıl’s work has been one of the first attempts in establishing an Islam-based decolonial intellectual paradigm and a political project that stands as an alternative to Eurocentric knowledge systems and modes of modernity. Necip Fazıl referred to this political project as “The Great East Revolution,” which sought to establish a totalitarian Sufi (Naqshbandi)-based political system that was introduced in The Great East journal and developed further in his book, Western Thought and Sufi Islam (1982), which provides a critical commentary on key names of Western thought from a Sufi perspective.

Based on the analysis of these sources, I argue that while Necip Fazıl builds his thought on the emancipatory promise of decoloniality, his attempts to establish an Islam-based alternative intellectual paradigm reproduces the hegemony that it seeks to overthrow by offering in its place a totalitarian system that will suppress or eliminate rival Islamic as well as secular movements.


Alev Çınar
EU H2020 Marie Curie GF Fellow (2021-2024), Visiting Scholar, Stanford University, Anthropology Department (2021-2023), Bilkent University, Department of Political Science (2023-2024).

This event is co-sponsored by The Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies and CDDRL's Program on Turkey.

Encina Commons, Room 123
615 Crothers Way, Stanford, CA 94305

Alev Çınar
The Earthquake in Türkiye and Technologies to Mitigate Disaster

The Board of Directors of TÜSİAD, as part of their visit to Silicon Valley, is organizing a panel discussion on cutting-edge methods to prevent and mitigate the hazardous effects of natural disasters, especially as they relate to high-density urban areas.

The conference, which is co-sponsored by The Program on Turkey at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University, will feature Prof. Ellsworth will address questions about earthquake risk reduction, specifically through the transfer of scientific understanding of the hazard to people, businesses, and policymakers. Prof. Deierlein will focus on his research on engineering techniques aimed at reducing the harmful effects of earthquakes. Ayşe Hortacsu will elaborate on the work done at the Applied Technology Council to enhance our preparedness and response to such disasters. Finally, Ahmad Wani will talk on the work his company OneConcern does to help better the responses following natural disasters.

Members of the TÜSİAD Silicon Valley Network will have an opportunity to ask questions and to engage with the visiting TÜSİAD delegation following the conference.

Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center
326 Galvez Street Stanford, CA 94305

Panel Discussions
Book Launch: Struggles for Political Change in the Arab World

To mark the eleven-year anniversary of the Arab Uprisings, The George Washington University’s Institute for Middle East Studies (IMES) and Stanford University’s Program on Arab Reform and Democracy (ARD) invite you to a series of panels examining major findings from the edited volume Struggles for Political Change in the Arab World: Regimes, Oppositions, and External Actors after the Spring, edited by Lisa Blaydes, Amr Hamzawy, and Hesham Sallam and published by the University of Michigan Press (2022).

About the Volume:

The advent of the Arab Spring in late 2010 was a hopeful moment for partisans of progressive change throughout the Arab world. Authoritarian leaders who had long stood in the way of meaningful political reform in the countries of the region were either ousted or faced the possibility of political if not physical demise. The downfall of long-standing dictators as they faced off with strong-willed protesters was a clear sign that democratic change was within reach. Throughout the last ten years, however, the Arab world has witnessed authoritarian regimes regaining resilience, pro-democracy movements losing momentum, and struggles between the first and the latter involving regional and international powers.

This volume explains how relevant political players in Arab countries among regimes, opposition movements, and external actors have adapted ten years after the onset of the Arab Spring. It includes contributions on Egypt, Morocco, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Algeria, Sudan, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, Yemen, and Tunisia. It also features studies on the respective roles of the United States, China, Iran, and Turkey vis-à-vis questions of political change and stability in the Arab region, and includes a study analyzing the role of Saudi Arabia and its allies in subverting revolutionary movements in other countries.



8:00-8:30 am: Coffee and light breakfast

8:30-9:00 am: Opening Remarks

Mona Atia, IMES, The George Washington University
Larry Diamond, CDDRL, Stanford University
Hicham Alaoui, Hicham Alaoui Foundation

9:00-10:45 am Panel I: Authoritarian Survival Strategies after the Arab Uprisings

Michael Herb, “The Decay of Family Rule in Saudi Arabia”
Farah Al-Nakib, “Kuwait’s Changing Landscape: Palace Projects and the Decline of Rule by Consensus”
Samia Errazzouki, “The People vs. the Palace: Power and Politics in Morocco since 2011”
Moderator: Hesham Sallam, CDDRL, Stanford University

10:45-11:00 am: Coffee break

11:00 am -1:00 pm Panel II: Opposition Mobilization and Challenges to Democratization

Khalid Medani, “The Prospects and Challenges of Democratization in Sudan”
Sean Yom, “Mobilization without Movement: Opposition and Youth Activism in Jordan”
Lina Khatib, “Cycles of Contention in Lebanon”
David Patel, “The Nexus of Patronage, Petrol, and Population in Iraq”
Moderator: Ayca Alemdaroglu, CDDRL, Stanford University

1:00-2:00 pm: Lunch

2:00-3:45 pm Panel III: External Actors and Responses to Popular Mobilization

Sarah Yerkes, U.S. Influence on Arab Regimes: From Reluctant Democracy Supporter to Authoritarian Enabler”
Ayca Alemdaroglu, “Myths of Expansion: Turkey’s Changing Policy in the Arab World”
Moderator: Nathan Brown, The George Washington University



Hicham Alaoui is the founder and director of the Hicham Alaoui Foundation and a scholar on the comparative politics of democratization and religion, with a focus on the MENA region.

Ayça Alemdaroğlu is a Research Scholar and Associate Director of the Program on Turkey at the Freeman Spogli Institute at Stanford University.

Mona Atia is Associate Professor of Geography and International Affairs at the George Washington University.

Nathan Brown is Professor of Political Science and International Affairs

Larry Diamond is a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, where he serves as director of the Program on Arab Reform and Democracy.

Samia Errazzouki is a PhD candidate in history at the University of California Davis and a former Morocco-based journalist.

Michael Herb is Professor of Political Science at Georgia State University.

Farah Al-Nakib is Associate Professor of History at the California Polytechnic State University.

Lina Khatib is the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House.

Khalid Mustafa Medani is Associate Professor of Political Science and Islamic Studies at McGill University.

David Siddhartha Patel is a Senior Fellow and Associate Director for Research at the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University.

Hesham Sallam is a Research Scholar at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

Sarah Yerkes is a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Sean Yom is Associate Professor of Political Science at Temple University, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and Board Member of the Hicham Alaoui Foundation.

Times are in EST

Elliott School of International Affairs
1957 E Street Northwest Room 602
Washington, DC 20052

Panel Discussions
Lecturer in Turkish Language and Literature

Burcu Karahan specializes in late 19th and early 20th centuries Ottoman Turkish literature. Her research on Ottoman/Turkish literature focuses on the novel, issues of translation, sexuality, formation of masculine identities, and Westernization. She teaches literature and culture courses on Ottoman and contemporary Turkish literature in translation and Turkish cinema; and language courses on Ottoman Turkish, reading knowledge for Turkish, and translation.

CDDRL Honors Student, 2022-23

Major: Economics
Minor: International Relations
Hometown: New York, NY
Thesis Advisor: Larry Diamond

Tentative Thesis Title: Autocratic Assistance? — How Has the Chinese Economic Presence in Turkey Impacted the Durability of the Erdoğan Regime?

Future aspirations post-Stanford: I hope to work at the intersection of the United States and Turkey, in the private sector and eventually within government. Currently, I'm working in the venture capital space on bringing new technologies to government and connecting policymakers in Washington D.C. with entrepreneurs around the country.

A fun fact about yourself: Along with friends, I co-wrote a screenplay during my sophomore year in high school.

Thousands of supporters wave flags and chant slogans while waiting for the arrival of CHP Party presidential candidate Muharrem Ince during a campaign rally on June 21, 2018 in Izmir, Turkey.
Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images

In February 2022, Turkey's six opposition parties signed a historic pact to restore the parliamentary system, the rule of law, and rights and freedoms if they win the 2023 elections. The main opposition Republican People's Party (RPP), was the main driver behind this achievement. This panel will discuss the changes in the RPP and the coalition's prospects. How did the RPP achieve this coalition, including Islamist and rightist parties? How does the alliance-building affect the inner dynamics and the organizational base of Turkey's oldest party? What will be the main determinants of electoral success for the party and the alliance?


Yunus Emre
Dr. Yunus Emre is a Turkish parliamentarian and the Republican People's Party (CHP) Assembly member. He is also a member of the Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Council (PACE). Before becoming an MP, he worked as an associate professor of political science at Istanbul Kultur University. His publications on the CHP history and social democracy include The Emergence of Social Democracy in Turkey: The Left and the Transformation of the Republican People's Party (Londra: IB Tauris, 2014) and Herkes için Demokrasi: Tek Adam Rejiminden Güçlendirilmiş Parlamenter Demokrasiye ("Democracy for All: From the One-Man Regime to Strengthened Parliamentary Democracy," Istanbul: Tekin, 2021). He has a Ph.D. from Boğaziçi University and held several other elected positions in the CHP organization, such as the Chairman of the Bakırköy District Youth Branch and the President of CHP's nationwide Youth Branches.  

Seren Selvin Korkmaz

Seren Selvin Korkmaz is the co-founder and executive director of IstanPol Institute and a doctoral researcher at Stockholm University, where she also teaches Middle East politics. Her research focuses on populism, political parties, voter perception, election strategies, and the political economy of exclusion. In addition, Korkmaz is a non-resident fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. and was recently selected to be a part of the "Young Leadership Program" of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Turkey. Through her engagements in a broad spectrum of academic and non-governmental initiatives, Korkmaz strives to bridge civil society, academia, and public policy through her research outputs and policy recommendations. 

Ayça Alemdaroğlu
Aytuğ Şaşmaz

Online via Zoom

Yunus Emre Dr. Member of Parliament Republican People's Party
Seren Selvin Korkmaz Ms. co-founder and Executive Director Istanbul Political Research Institute (IstanPol)
Panel Discussions
Subscribe to Turkey