How (not) to cut the Gordian Knot of institutionalized authoritarian populism? Reflections on the elections of May 14th, 2023 in Turkey

Let’s be frank: the results of the twin elections – parliamentary and presidential – in Turkey of May 14th, 2023 turned out be a relative victory for Erdoğan and a relative failure of the opposition, left and right. Even though the presidential race has not been decided yet as none of the candidates won the 50%+1 of the votes necessary to decide the first round of presidential elections, making a second round necessary on May 28th, we can still come to some key analytical conclusions and perspectives. However, there are plenty reasons not to give up the fight for defeating Erdoğan on May 28th. Let us approach the intricate Gordian Knot step by step.

The durability of institutionalized authoritarian populism in power

The election results already point to a relative victory for Erdoğan. True, authoritarian repression, strongly uneven playing field in the forerun and on the day of elections and electoral fraud of which an election night yet again shrouded in mysterious irregularities is symptomatic of remaining key elements of Erdoğan’s relative victory. There are already strong signs that electoral fraud has especially focussed on turning votes for the main leftist, pro-Kurdish Green and Left Party (Yeşil ve Sol Partisi, YSP) into votes for the main far-right nationalist party, the Nationalist Movement Party (Milliyetçi Hareket Partisi, MHP), the main ally of Erdoğan (follow p. ex. the hashtag #YeşilSolPartininOylarıNerede on Twitter). As of my writing this piece, the scope of the fraud is not yet quite clear and whether it will have critical effects on the electoral outcome. Keeping this in mind, however, fraud in itself does not explain the huge amount of popular electoral support for Erdoğan as presidential candidate and his ruling alliance, the People’s Alliance (Cumhur Ittifakı, CI). Erdoğan with officially up to now 49,50% of the popular vote (as against 52,60% and a victory in the first round in 2018) came close to winning the presidential race in the first round, while his competitor, leader of the Republican People’s Party (Cumhuriyetçi Halk Partisi, CHP), Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who also leads the main bourgeois opposition alliance, the Nation Alliance (Millet Ittifakı, MI), tallied at slightly less than 45% of the popular vote. Albeit Erdoğan’s CI did win slightly less than the absolute majority with an electoral support close to Erdoğan’s, 49,46% as against 53,60% in 2018, due to electoral arithmetics, the CI still controls the absolute majority within Turkey’s parliament with 322 of 600 MPs. Thus, even though CI and Erdoğan lost vote shares and even though Erdoğan did not manage to win in the first round, the fact that MI plus the leftist opposition bloc, the Labour and Freedom Alliance (Emek ve Özgürlük Ittifakı, EÖI) led by YSP, did not manage to break CI’s hold over parliament and the fact that Kılıçdaroğlu neither won the first round of the presidential race, neither lead it, should clearly be understood as a relative victory for Erdoğan. Why so?

As against liberal-democratic claims of the strong performance of the opposition in Turkey if compared to the opposition in Russia and Hungary (for an excellent piece along these lines, see here), one should stress the key difference of the authoritarian regime in Turkey as compared to the ones in Russia or Hungary which makes the election results a relative victory for the regime – namely relative to the deep and multifaceted crises it has pushed the country into. Turkey is going through its most severe economic crisis in over 20 years (at least for the broad mass of the population) with the worst most probably yet to come. It has exhibited a terrible public health performance in the pandemic and lived through the worst earthquake in the modern history of Turkey, for whose severity the government bears a strong responsibility. In spite of all this, which is not even remotely the case for any of the entrenched authoritarian regimes worldwide, Erdoğan’s regime still remains the upper hand. And this, by the way, also in the earthquake zone, where the decline in support for the CI and especially for the AKP is not negligible, but they are still far ahead, while Erdoğan as presidential candidate has hardly suffered any losses compared to 2018.

This leads us to the first important theoretical conclusion that is relevant also on a global scale: an institutionalized authoritarian populism in power and its mechanisms of polarized identity building can be stubbornly durable even in the face of deep and massive crises. There seems to be a liberal Enlightenment approach undergirding much of shocked sentiment and reaction to the election results that reasons nobody would or should rationally want to vote for a regime time and again that obviously fails the population from a supposedly rational point of view. This line of reasoning was and remains inappropriate epistemologically and ontologically to understand what has happened and what is happening since years.

Erdoğan and AKP have initially been able to ride on the wave of “embedded neoliberalism”, that is embedding neoliberalism into mechanisms of minimal health care provision and often quite paternalist and clientelist forms of redistribution. This they coupled with discourses and practices that gave the feeling of widespread social participation. These entailed subjectivization mechanisms along conservative lines and only a restrictive, that is non-structural empowerment of the non-elite parts of their support base. This social anchoring of Erdoğan and the AKP is key to an understanding of how Erdoğan managed to anchor his conspiracist authoritaritarian discourse and polarization mechanisms to hold together a veritable amount of social consent and forge an alliance with extreme nationalist forces such as MHP. Without this deep analytical background, one simply remains stuck on the surface of events, as is the case with so many political science analyses that, for example, emphasize Erdoğan's polarization tactics or economic populism, but cannot explain why this has worked for Erdoğan for years despite deep crises, but not for Trump, Bolsonaro, and Johnson.

The success of presenting oneself as the leader and leading party that advances the concerns of the people along above mentioned lines and historical background gave a certain stickiness to the consensual pull of Erdoğan/CI even in times of crisis, preventing a massive breakdown of consent amongst the Erdoğan/CI voter base. Superadded to this is the elevation to be gained by accepting the authoritarian offer of being part of the “national will” represented by Erdoğan/CI. Also do not underestimate the effects of pre-election populist economy management: rent cap, minimum wage hike, mass pensions system entitlements and pensions rise, energy subsidies, promise to reconstruct the earthquake area within a year, promise to fund half of the costs for new homes in the earthquake area and so on. None of this might be sustainable. But they boosted the already existing successful leader image. A typical Erdoğan/CI voter sentiment seen and heard quite often within the last weeks consists of complaining about many things such as the economy but still believing that Erdoğan/CI is the best/only option for solving the mess. Still, discontent runs high within the Erdoğan/CI voter base as manifested in the loss of votes for Erdoğan and CI as compared to 2018 and as is uncovered in certain qualitative field works and public surveys. Then why did the opposition relatively fail to canalize that discontent away from Erdoğan/CI stronger than it did?

The limits of a half-heartedly progressive neoliberalism

As has been pointed out by critical voices numerous times, the main bourgeois opposition bloc has been rather weak in presenting an alternative vision for state and society, even less so in anchoring such a perspective in social practices connecting with the people. Their vision of economy entails a restoration of sorts of a classical neoliberal accumulation regime with maybe a somewhat developmental edge – that is, an accumulation regime that is one of the main reasons for jobless growth, rising inequality of income and wealth and destruction of working class organization, which all formed the bases for organizing discontent in reactionary ways as done by Erdoğan. Turkey’s case in this regard again resembles a global trend of a dominant systemic dialectics between progressive neoliberalism and reactionary populism on the background of a deep and multifaceted crisis of the globalized neoliberal world order. However, in Turkey with an even less pronounced “progressiveness” on the neoliberal side of the dialectic than say with Macron in France, Biden in the US or the “progressive coalition” in Germany. How and why so?

The MI’s call for democracy remains somewhat ambiguous as mostly the intra-state dimension of democratization is detailed out by the main opposition entailing the return to a strengthened parliamentary system. There are many good proposals to be found in the relevant documents of MI for example relating to the judiciary. However, one should not forget that the current presidential regime in Turkey did not parachute down to earth from out of nowhere but developed out of a parliamentary system itself. Namely by Erdoğan/CI instrumentalizing social conflicts to push for a transition towards an authoritarian presidential regime against the background of a crisis of hegemony. In this regard, the main opposition’s call for pluralism in social relations remains much less detailed out as highly contentious topics such as the Kurdish and Alevi “question” and the topic of LGBTQI+ rights are evaded. Positive references to historic institutions of exclusionary religious politics such as the Directorate of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) abound with the CHP but also with other parties of MI. So do positive references to newer symbolic and institutional elements of right-wing nationalism and authoritarianism such as the Introduction and the first four paragraphs of the military-imposed and still valid 1982 constitution. Those entail an exclusionist understanding of the Turkish nation and an authoritarian “Ataturkism”. Elements such as these coupled with a strong focus on extreme nationalism and patriarchal values were the key topics and elements instrumentalised by Erdoğan/CI to push for consent on the way to the current presidential system and remain the key topics instrumentalized for Erdoğan/CI to consolidate authoritarian consent. Last but not least, the main opposition has resembled Erdoğan/CI in its mobilizational aspect. That is by keeping the people low, demotivating them from becoming self-active and on the streets by warning them of bad things that could otherwise happen. Instead, they push for the people to stay demobilized or only to be mobilized in a paternalist and controlled way.

Then again, exclusionary (extreme) nationalism, exclusionary religious politics and holding up an authoritarian belief in state and state security over self-active mass participation and popular democracy have been central themes of ruling blocs since the foundation of the modern Republic of Turkey. None of this was or remains unchallenged and unchanged. An interlude of high social contention 1960-80 questioned those authoritarian fundamentals of the Republic. Those, however, were reinstated in a modified way by the military junta of the coup d’état of 12th September 1980 and its authoritarian constitution. There has been a constant rise of a right-wing bend of conservatism encapsulating nationalism and Islamism since then, propagated and instrumentalised by most important bourgeois parties and the military, filling in the vacuum left by the obliterated revolutionary left. Stronger or weaker alternative or counter-tendencies did and do continue to exist such as manifested in the short-lived rise of social democracy in the early 1990s, illusionary attempts at “progressive neoliberalism” under the early AKP and in recent times most importantly the Gezi Uprising of 2013. However, the Republicans and the Republican left have evaded and do continue to evade formulating counter-tendencies into an encompassing non-neoliberal alternative while the revolutionary Left remained and remains way too weak after 1980 or turned liberal in parts. That is the main reason why there exists an independent third, left and pro-Kurdish coalition in Turkey since quite some time now.

That the main opposition bloc today is also trying to ride the dominant rising tide of conservatism should thus come of no surprise, even less so if one keeps in mind that basically all parties within the MI besides the CHP are split parties from the AKP (Davutoğlu’s GP, Babacan’s DEVA) or the MHP (Akşener’s IYI), besides a successor party of the predecessor of the AKP (Karamollaoğlu’s SP) and a party standing in the main tradition of the centre-right in Turkey (Uysal’s DP). That is, parties from the Right of the political spectrum. Thus, it is wrong, as one can sometimes read or hear, to talk of a “grand, cross-ideological” coalition regarding MI. It is simply a center-right coalition at best.

There is no open cooperation with YSP or EÖI, which is even rejected outright by close to all parties within MI besides the CHP, even though YSP and its precursor, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (Halkların Demokratik Partisi, HDP) have been instrumental in securing opposition victories in local elections 2019 and now again have been instrumental in pushing the vote share of Kılıçdaroğlu. In fact, Kılıçdaroğlu scored highest in the predominantly Kurdish areas of Turkey, often way above 60% of the vote. As against this, one can often hear calls of a more liberal bend for Kılıçdaroğlu and CHP to be open and apprehensive of conservative and nationalist voters to forge a winning democratic coalition and break apart Erdoğan’s/CI’s hold over those voters. On the other hand, similar calls to Kılıçdaroğlu and the CHP to embrace the HDP/YSP or the EÖI are often lacking. Clearly, the MI not only pragmatically believed that appeasing to an apparently dominant conservative trend will give them the upper hand electorally. One can easily come to the conclusion that the majority of MI is also actively convinced conservatism is the legitimate and right way to govern society and how society should look like. It was precisely this appeasement to the right-wing conservative trend that made it questionable, even before the elections, how far democratization under MI leadership could go if they had won the twin elections.

In any case, this kind of appeasement does not seem to be as convincing an alternative enough. The MI in the parliamentary elections basically got stuck to its vote shares of 2018 (33,94% back then, 35% now), whereby IYI scored slightly less (9,7% as against 9,96%) and the CHP slightly more than in the last elections (25,33% as against 22,65%). However, CHP’s winning over more MPs via the much-lauded tactics of going into the electoral competition with common lists with the other MI-members besides IYI will turn those gains into losses as CHP will give more seats to MI-members than it gained. It is tempting to ask oneself whether the tactic of forging a center to center-right coalition in order to canalize democratic potential against authoritarianism paid out that well after all and whether an alternative center-left alliance say with CHP and HDP at its core would not have been more successful if done properly.

The lessons from the relative failure of the opposition are therefore, in my judgment, these: It will hardly work without a comprehensive alternative social vision, including an alternative political-economic vision, plus a practice that connects with people in their everyday life and social practice, in order to actually anchor the alternative and subjectivize people in a way that empowers them comprehensively and therefore replaces the reactionary mechanisms of subjectivation. Or it will work at an ever-increasing price, that is, on the background of ever more severe crises whose materiality will then at some point break the materiality and superstructure of Erdoğanism, but then with a thrust that remains radically open in all directions, progressive as well as reactionary.

Worse still than all of this, the appeasement towards right-wing conservatism in order to overturn its most extreme authoritarian form, namely the fascistoid regime lead by Erdoğan, contributed – inadvertently, I guess, from the point of view of the majority of Republicans – to the strengthening of the rising tide of right-wing (extremist) conservatism. This, too, was a major danger that critical analyses had been warning about for some time.

The rise of extreme right-wing conservatism

The secret winner of the May 14th elections in Turkey for now seems to be (extreme) right-wing conservatism as a general strand crisscrossing alliances and encapsulating different undercurrents such as extreme nationalism and extreme Islamism. If counted together, (extreme) right wing nationalist parties from the ruling coalition such as MHP but also from the opposition such as the already mentioned IYI but also the ferociously anti-refugee Victory Party (Zafer Partisi, ZP), itself an IYI-split, show a total vote share for this current of around 24-25%. The big unsolved enigma in this equation so far is the MHP's strong performance. Whereas it had been predicted to win 6-7% of the vote on average in all pre-election polls, it generally defended its 2018 approval ratings with almost no losses, winning just over 10% of the vote. A similar massive misprediction of the MHP's performance by almost all election polling institutes had already occurred in 2018.

On the other hand, while AKP as a party in spite of being the strongest party still has been the one big losers of these elections (35,58% as compared to 42,56% in 2018), the extreme Islamists of Erbakan’s New Welfare Party (Yeniden Refah Partisi, YRP) have sent five members to parliament as part of the CI with 2,82% of the votes. On top of it, four members of the Kurdish Islamist Free Cause Party (Hür Dava Partisi, HÜDA-PAR) have entered parliament via AKP lists. YRP has been added to the CI to strengthen the Islamist pull of it, while HÜDA-PAR has been added to the alliance to increase the pull on conservative Kurds. While HÜDA-PAR stands in the tradition of the Turkish Hizbullah which was responsible for barbaric massacres and instances of brutal torture in the 1990s, both HÜDA-PAR and YRP foster a raging hostility towards queer people and women’s rights. As the veteran Republican journalist Murat Yetkin rightfully points out, the current parliament is set to become the most nationalist and Islamist parliament ever in modern Turkey’s history. Looking at the presidential race, we see that the extreme right-wing nationalist candidate, Sinan Oğan, himself too a split from the IYI, with a total vote share of 5,17% has been key in pushing the presidential race into a second round.

Even though we do not yet have scientifically sound analyses of voter flows, we can tentatively argue that disgruntled voters of AKP chose to vote for parties within the same alliance such as YRP and to a minor degree for parties outside of the ruling coalition that are ideologically close to the ruling coalition. A preliminary reasoning points to the direction that nationalist leaning new voters and disgruntled voters of other parties, especially those that voted IYI, did vote for Sinan Oğan. Akşener does not seem to be as unsettled by the election results as the Republicans or the Left as she has kept quite all over the election night and until now (Thursday, May 18th). One can only guess whether an extreme nationalist as presumable king maker in the second round of presidential elections delights her as much as the general strong showing of (extreme) nationalism in the elections. In any case, years of demonizing even the mildly centrist CHP and especially the HDP/YSP as terrorist from an extreme nationalist point of view coupled with the lack of an alternative to right-wing conservatism and appeasement to the same by the main opposition bloc have led to these results. That is, politics has contributed to this situation and not some mysterious general sociology of Turkey according to which reactionary conservatism/nationalism is somehow part and parcel of the Turkish nation. However, as for example Cihan Tuğal has pointed out, still these structural shifts in general voter sentiment and identity-building will most probably not be overturned within the less than two weeks before the second round of presidential elections, even if Kılıçdaroğlu wanted to (which, by the way, he obviously does not; see below). Before turning to the election night and perspectives on the second round, I will have a swift look at the state of the Left.

Revolutionary stuttering

By what is now official results, the performance of the left EÖI remains mediocre. It even might have lost vote shares (10,54% as against 11,70% for the HDP in 2018), particularly the YSP (8,81% now), under whose umbrella the HDP did run as it faces a politicized closure case in front of the Constitutional Court. However, as discussions revolving around electoral fraud specifically focus on votes for YSP and to a lesser degree the Workers’ Party of Turkey (Türkiye Işçi Partisi, TIP), which is part of EÖI, detailed discussions about electoral success or failure of EÖI will have to wait until the fog of war is lifted. Still, some more general points can already be made. Aforementioned fraud and authoritarian repression plus the general rise in right-wing conservatism has restricted the field of action for EÖI. Still, it remains an important force to reckon with, and this it does since years. It represents the only real guarantee for democratization in Turkey and due to the socialist and leftist tendencies within EÖI also for the possibility of a social perspective for Turkey. That is part of the reason for the demonisation of EÖI and especially HDP/YSP by most parties of the political spectrum to keep this pole of an alternative for Turkey stuck with Kurds only and marginalized elements of the Left as right-wing conservatism is preferred as social vision for Turkey by the dominant political parties.

EÖI formed just before the elections, integrating even more socialist parties than before into a strategic alliance with the pro-Kurdish left forces. This was an important step as it enlarged the scope of a strategic alliance of socialists and pro-Kurdish Leftists by parties and organizations that in earlier times stood in relative distance to the Kurdish movement. However, divisions over whether to enter the contest for parliament via common lists under the umbrella of HDP/YSP or via different lists led to severe frictions within the alliance. At the end of the day, only TIP from within EÖI decided to run via an independent list apart from HDP/YSP while all other socialist parties ran over HDP lists. At the positive side of the electoral outcome for EÖI is the fact that TIP on its own could win four MPs with 1,73% of the votes, that is the same number of MPs as compared to when they ran for parliament the first time in 2018 via HDP lists. This in principle is to be welcomed as it shows that a socialist party in strategic alliance with the HDP/YSP is able to win votes and seats by itself even if it is a newcomer to the parliamentary contest. Again, we do not have a clear analysis of voter flows and as such we cannot determine exactly where and from whom the votes for TIP came from. It is however highly likely that TIP got votes from left-leaning CHP voters, non-voters and HDP/YSP voters. If TIP won over more votes from left-leaning CHP voters and non-voters than from HDP/YSP voters, one could even say that TIP in principle contributed to the growth of the overall vote share of EÖI.

Whatever the voter flows may be in detail, on the negative side of the electoral outcome for EÖI is the fact that, according to some calculations, running via separate lists led to a loss of about four MPs due to the split of the Left-leaning vote in certain areas (calculations on potential losses of parliamentary seats remain provisional). While uniting just for the sake of getting more MPs and renouncing independent organizing and propaganda can and should in normal times be seen as an authoritarian perspective of ironing out differences for the sake of the strongest part of the unity and pragmatic reasons (more MPs), Turkey was not going for normal elections on May 14th. Beating back the CI absolute majority in parliament besides beating Erdoğan as presidential candidate was and remains key to striking am important blow against consolidated authoritarianism at a critical historical juncture. The timing of TIP’s initiative to go for its own competitive lists and its form, that is, running separately also in places where it would foreseeably lead to a loss of MPs for EÖI in total, were gross mistakes damaging the spirit of alliance unity that should be criticized as such.

But then again, the spirit of debates over the lists issue and after the elections at times left the boundaries of legitimate competition and critique within a Left alliance and was severely destructive for the alliance spirit as well. If we take the up to now official results at face value (always keep the fraud caveat in mind), HDP/YSP lost more votes than TIP won, even in areas where TIP did not run parallel to the HDP/YSP such as (parts of) Izmir, Ankara, Bursa, Aydın, Kocaeli and Manisa. The disruption of the alliance spirit might have contributed to a demoralisation and consequently to a loss of vote shares. A sober self-reflection is necessary to find the reasons for the relative loss of vote shares. Within the alliance, at the two extremes of the debate stand TIP MP Ahmet Şık’s complaints about “Kurdish fascists” and HDP co-chair Pervin Buldan’s claim that any vote for a party within EÖI other than HDP/YSP would be a vote for Erdoğan (both apologized later on). Also after election night, searching for the scapegoat within EÖI went viral. This is not an acceptable form of holding an intra-alliance debate. EÖI members and member parties should swiftly return to reconstructing the alliance spirit while not withholding legitimate critique as all forces right now are necessary to reverse the general demoralization tendencies that began setting in since the election night in order to regain initiative on the rocky road to May 28th. One cannot stress enough the importance of readying for May 28th in as speedy a fashion as possible. In the mid- to long-term, whatever the results of May 28th, a strong and united through differences EÖI is necessary to counter the rise of right-wing conservatism, gather more forces to the case of a democratization of Turkey with a strong social perspective and tilt the balance of forces in such a direction. EÖI will not be able to succeed in this if it reverts to a psychology of defeat directing destructive energies to the inside instead of forming them into positive energies to the outside.

Facing an uphill battle: The rocky road to May 28th

Moments and elements that do not represent core elements of structures or mid- to long-term tendencies can be highly important in the short-term. They become historically decisive if what is the short-term is itself situated within a critical historical juncture. The election night still remains shrouded in mysteries yet again as publishing of new data on electoral outcome by all relevant instances, including the alternative system constructed by CHP and MI, stopped for some hours in the midst of the night. Even the very vocal CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoğlu and Mansur Yavaş, who challenged official counting and AKP obstruction maneuvers in the evening and night, stopped doing so without any explanation. In a very similar way, Imamoğlu on March 31st, 2019 local elections kept challenging official reporting throughout the night, which is now seen as a crucial element in securing CHP victory against electoral fraud by AKP. What happened this time around? Four days after there is still no explanation. There are plenty of rumors and symptoms – such as the resignation of the person in charge of election security and reporting within the CHP – of something going awry within the CHP. But the population at large is kept in the dark on details and as such confused and demobilised. This is coupled with the fact that electoral fraud the scope of which remains contested began being uncovered two days after the elections. Maybe it is pure chance and high analytical talent on the side of the Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu (AKP), that he did predict more or less the exact results of the election on election day. Or maybe, it is not.

Even if fraud does not explain the still high electoral support for Erdoğan and CI, if it changed election results even only by 1-2% in favor of Erdoğan and MHP and against Kılıçdaroğlu and YSP, it will be decisive for the morale factor in the forerun to the second round of the presidential race. What happened in the election night in plain sight – countless objections by AKP militants to ballot boxes in Istanbul and Ankara – might then be interpreted as a diversionary tactic to draw away attention, time and energy from the ballot boxes where the real fraud took place. Debunking this supposed electoral fraud will most probably not bring Kılıçdaroğlu a victory in the first round, and maybe also not wipe out CI’s absolute majority in parliament. But the unexpectedly strong showing of MHP in parliament and Erdoğan’s near-victory in the first round were the two main causes of widespread demoralization in and after the election night. Surely, overoptimistic expectations nurtured by the political parties have their fair share of responsibility in this demoralisation too. Still, reducing MHP’s and Erdoğan’s vote share by uncovering fraud would severely boost morale. The importance of the struggle for determining the exact scope of electoral fraud as good as it gets and overturning its results as fast as possible in order to change the general mood on the rocky road to May 28th cannot be stressed enough. Even without uncovering the fraud, defeatism regarding the second round of presidential elections that can be detected even in some critical analyses was a wrong approach to start with.

In any case, Sinan Oğan and the roughly 5% of the vote that he was able to gather have become decisive for May 28th. Oğan has declared he will talk with both sides and present his demands for support. These can basically be reduced to the demand to show respect to hardcore Turkish nationalism and anti-refugee sentiment. Oğan for now seems to lean toward supporting Kılıçdaroğlu on May 28th while already calculating for early elections in two to three years, no matter who wins, as he – not completely wrong in this regard – foresees an unstable situation emerging after May 28th. But then again, the character of Oğan’s voter base is not really clear yet. They are obviously in opposition to Erdoğan and motivated by nationalist sentiment, also remaining in distance to Kılıçdaroğlu in the first round of presidential elections. Kılıçdaroğlu can decide to give even more concessions to Turkish nationalism than he already has to win over Oğan voters, which risks losing Left and Kurdish support. Or, he bets on stressing the anti-Erdoğan and anti-fascist, pro-democratic perspective, which seems to be shared by parts of Oğan voters, risking to lose hardcore nationalist support in turn. In the meantime, it has become clear that Kılıçdaroğlu prefers the former. The prelude to his campaign for May 28th began with an aggressive anti-refugee diatribe and praise for the fatherland and nationalist militarism. It feels as if the old head of the CHP, the ultra-nationalist Deniz Baykal, has risen from the grave to lead Mustafa Kemal's soldiers into battle.

Whatever the case, a Kılıçdaroğlu victory would be key in weakening Erdoğan and the CI as the authoritarian presidential system gives the president the ability to determine the entire government and a major portion of the upper bureaucracy, no matter who controls parliament. Thus, a situation of dual power in which one bloc controls the president, the other one the parliament would not automatically create administrative chaos. The executive and bureaucracy under Kılıçdaroğlu including the security apparatuses, institutions of economic policy and major parts of the upper judiciary could operate in a way bypassing the CI absolute majority in parliament. But speaking in hegemonic terms, such a situation would most probably be untenable for a longer time, especially in the face of MI’s promise to end the Presidential system.

The opposition to the fascization process in Turkey is facing an uphill battle on the rocky road to May 28th . While the uncovering of systematic fraud the scope of which remains contested has recovered morale to a certain degree, Erdoğan and CI still do have the upper hand and it looks more likely that they will win May 28th from today’s perspective. However, that is not taken for granted and there is a realistic chance for Kılıçdaroğlu to win too. This should not be easily dismissed, as the success or failure of fighting against demoralisation and regaining initiative co-determines whether Erdoğan will be defeated at the polls or not. Success or failure on May 28th is not merely a matter of an intellectual, epistemological exercise of rationally analyzing what is going to happen, but one of practice that is decisive in determining that very outcome. Defeatism is a luxury commodity from the perspective of all those people in opposition who do not have a realistic perspective of fleeing the country in case of an Erdoğan/CI victory. The depression that has arisen from the perception of a hopeless prospect of another five years of Erdoğan in coalition with Hizbullah has already driven 20-year-old Kübra Ergin to commit suicide. The spread of such a perception of hopelessness can be stopped, and we owe that to Kübra Ergin and many others.

All forces have now to be gathered to fight for a defeat of Erdoğan. This is the only way to strengthen the possibility of some relaxation of the fascistic onslaught in the short-term, which is necessary to reconstruct the foundations to build the social power and vision that could cut apart the Gordian Knot. All this, of course, without falling prey to the illusion that a Kılıçdaroğlu presidency will bring democracy and socialism to Turkey, much less so now that Kılıçdaroğlu himself bandwagons on ultranationalism to get Oğan on board. The alternative, however, is that the gates of hell are opened wide. That, one should realize in full before falling for a comfortable defeatism, or, conversely, into revolutionary ultra-left radicalism.