Turkish Elections and the Triple Crown


This weekend, two historic races are taking place. The first is the Belmont Stakes, where American Pharoah hopes to become the first horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978. The following day, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey’s AK party fights for yet another electoral victory – its third in a fourteen month period – an more importantly, a parliamentary supermajority that would allow Erdoğan to strengthen his presidential powers (more often that not, analysts make the parallel to how Vladimir Putin has consolidated power in Russia).

I am big on metaphors, so I began to think about how impressive a feat both Erdogan and American Pharoah are trying to accomplish and why they will both likely fall short.

Let’s start with American Pharoah, the handsome colt that has to 3-5 odds of willing the Belmont Stakes on Saturday afternoon. There hasn’t been a Triple Crown winner since 1978, when Affirmed beat out Alydar by a nose in a wild finish. Many racing experts are saying that, despite the numbers at the bookies, you shouldn’t rely on American Pharoah to end the almost forty-year Triple Crown drought.

Why is this the case? The primary reason is that horse racing tactics have changed in the last few decades. In the 60s and 70s almost all the same horses ran in the Triple Crown races, but the trend nowadays for many owners -is once it is clear their horse is not in contention to make history – to forgo participating in the Preakness in order to rest up and increasing their chances to win at the Belmont. On Saturday, American Pharoah will be running up against a slew of contenders who have enjoyed a longer period of time to freshen their legs.

In this sense, politics are quite similar to horse racing. There are constantly new challengers and fresh candidates hoping to dethrone the reigning champ. With each passing election cycle, it becomes more and more difficult for the incumbent to recharge his batteries for the race. Perhaps this is why rumors of election fraud are surfacing in Turkey; it must be exhausting for Erdoğan to keep his stamina up week after week, month after month, year after year.

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş

HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş

Like American Pharoah, Erdoğan is aiming to make history. He is already the most significant political figure in Turkey since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, but achieving a supermajority and reforming the country’s constitution would unquestionably solidify his legacy. At the same time, the wear and tear from March 2014’s municipal elections and the August 2014 presidential elections may be catching up with him.

Erdoğan and the AKP face long odds. The liberal pro-Kurdish HDP, lead by the youthful Selahattin Demirtaş, is being heralded as a serious challenge to the AKP’s supermajority. On Sunday, many Turks who would traditionally distance themselves from a party that affiliates with Kurdish interests may vote strategically for the HDP in the hopes of blocking Erdoğan’s ambitions.

While I am not in the business of predicting what will take place this weekend (there are countless scenarios and I recommend reading some of the work done by Aaron Stein, JamesInTurkey, and Michael Koplow for further reading), let’s assume for a minute that the AKP fails to achieve its supermajority and its attempts to reform the constitution are blocked. Would it trigger a changing of the guards within the party? Would Erdoğan be forced to abandon his position of president after one term and run again as prime minister? Would Erdoğan, like a thoroughbred exhausted and on his last legs, submit to his fate or continue racing?

Posted on by Gabriel in Turkey