Turkey’s upcoming elections on May 14 will determine the fate of President Tayyip Erdogan’s 20-year rule, as he faces opposition from Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Recent surveys indicate a close race, which could potentially result in a runoff two weeks later.
Erdogan’s AK Party has a strong alliance with the nationalist MHP, while the opposition coalition consists of the secularist CHP and five other parties. It is expected to receive additional support from the HDP, the main Kurdish party, which may give it an advantage in some polls.
Following are descriptions of key figures in the presidential and parliamentary elections:
PRESIDENT TAYYIP ERDOGAN
Twenty years ago, Erdogan became Turkey’s leader, rising to power after a period of high inflation and promising sound governance after the previous coalition was accused of mismanagement. During his tenure, Turkey experienced an extended economic boom, and its 85 million citizens enjoyed rising living standards.
Despite numerous election victories and a thwarted coup in 2016, Erdogan has been accused of using the courts to suppress dissent as he has sought to shape the country into a conservative, pious society and assertive regional power.
On the campaign trail, Erdogan has touted Turkey’s industrial achievements and large-scale infrastructure and construction projects while warning of potential government chaos if the opposition were to win. Polls suggest a close race for Erdogan against opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, with the possibility of a runoff.
CHP LEADER KEMAL KILICDAROGLU
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, aged 74, was chosen as the opposition alliance’s presidential candidate in March, leading the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition party. Despite being in politics since 2002, Kilicdaroglu has struggled to gain a significant share of the vote, failing to close the gap with the ruling AKP party.
The CHP, founded by Turkey’s first president Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, has traditionally appealed to secularist voters and has found it challenging to expand its base to include conservative voters.
As a former civil servant, Kilicdaroglu has adopted an inclusive tone to attract voters disillusioned with Erdogan’s rhetoric and alleged economic mismanagement. His campaign has focused on promises of economic prosperity, respect for human rights, and the rule of law.
HOMELAND PARTY LEADER MUHARREM INCE
Muharrem Ince, 58, is a former physics teacher and headmaster who is not expected to win the presidential election. During his 16 years in parliament, Ince gained recognition for his confrontational speeches against Erdogan.
He ran as the main opposition candidate in the 2018 presidential election, winning 30.6% of the vote against Erdogan’s 52.6%. Despite being from the CHP, a secular, Western-leaning party, Ince managed to attract right-wing voters.
Sinan Ogan, 55, is considered an unlikely winner in the upcoming Turkish elections. He previously worked as an academic and founded the think tank TURKSAM. In 2011, he was elected to parliament as a member of the far-right MHP. Ogan’s bid for leadership of the MHP in 2015 was unsuccessful, and he was later expelled from the party.
MHP LEADER DEVLET BAHCELI
Devlet Bahceli, the 75-year-old leader of the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has been a key ally in President Erdogan’s grip on power. Bahceli famously supported Erdogan’s bid to change the Turkish presidency to an executive system in a 2017 referendum, a move that cemented Erdogan’s authority. Prior to this, Bahceli had been a vocal opponent of Erdogan. Bahceli’s party has taken a hardline stance against pro-Kurdish parties and has been particularly hostile towards the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
IYI PARTY LEADER MERAL AKSENER
Meral Aksener, aged 66, heads the centrist and nationalist IYI Party, which is the second-largest party in the opposition alliance. She gained more recognition after being expelled from the MHP in 2016 for leading an unsuccessful attempt to remove Bahceli. Aksener appeals to conservative voters and those who are disenchanted with the MHP’s partnership with the AKP.
FORMER HDP LEADER SELAHATTIN DEMIRTAS
Selahattin Demirtas, 49, is a former leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) and a key political figure despite being imprisoned since 2016. He faces potential life imprisonment over allegations of instigating protests in 2014 that led to the deaths of several people.
Despite his incarceration, Demirtas remains popular among some segments of Turkish society and has been a vocal critic of Erdogan’s government. The HDP has announced that it will support Kilicdaroglu’s presidential bid, and it will run under the Green Left Party in the parliamentary election to avoid potential closure before the polls.
DEVA PARTY LEADER ALI BABACAN
Babacan, 55, is an ex-deputy prime minister and former close ally of Erdogan who quit the AKP in 2019 over differences about its direction. He formed the Deva (Remedy) Party and urged reforms to boost the rule of law and democracy. A former economy and foreign minister, he was well-regarded by foreign investors.
FUTURE PARTY LEADER AHMET DAVUTOGLU
Davutoglu, 64, a former prime minister and foreign minister, broke with the AKP in 2019 and established the Gelecek (Future) Party. In the first decade of AKP rule, he championed a less confrontational foreign policy with the mantra “zero problems with neighbors”, and has since criticized what he describes as a lurch towards authoritarianism under the executive presidency.
ISTANBUL MAYOR EKREM IMAMOGLU
After five years as CHP mayor of an Istanbul district, former businessman Ekrem Imamoglu, 52, rose to prominence in 2019 when he defeated the AKP’s candidate in the Istanbul municipal election. He was sentenced to more than two years in prison in 2022 for insulting public officials and faces a political ban if the ruling is upheld.
ANKARA MAYOR MANSUR YAVAS
Nationalist politician and lawyer Mansur Yavas, 67, defeated the AKP’s Ankara mayoral candidate in 2019 as the CHP candidate backed by an opposition alliance. He served for 10 years as the nationalist MHP mayor of an Ankara district until 2009. He left the MHP and joined CHP in 2013.