'What civil society can do is limited': Timur Kuran on Turkey’s Elections and Lessons for Russia

The Bell

The debate over the trustworthiness of opinion polls in authoritarian countries like Russia has intensified following the invasion of Ukraine. Opinion polls, including those conducted by the Levada Center — an independent organization labeled a “foreign agent” by the Russian authorities — indicate approval for the war remains strong even over a year since Russian tanks rolled across the border.

One common explanation for this is that people are afraid to openly express their opinions. If this is the case, at what point does the "spiral of silence" break? How can the experience of Turkey, where a lot of people openly supported opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in recent elections, despite the fear of repression, be relevant to Russia? What could Kılıçdaroğlu's victory in the second round mean for the world? The Bell's Slava Dvornikov discussed these and other questions with prominent economist Timur Kuran who has a broad knowledge of Turkish affairs.

Who is Timur Kuran?

Timur Kuran is a professor of economics and political science and the Gorter Family Professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. He graduated from the Robert Academy in Istanbul in 1973. 

Kuran was responsible for developing the “theory of falsification of preferences,” which explores the misrepresentation of people's views due to perceived social, state or familial pressure. Kuran first proposed this theory in 1987, using three revolutions that were not widely predicted: the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia, and the French Revolution of 1789. He demonstrated that people often support the ruling regime not because they genuinely believe it is fair, but because it aligns with the majority's views. 

His article, "The Inevitability of Revolutionary 'Surprises' in the Future", which discusses why the collapse of the USSR went unforeseen, was written in 1995 and can be read in Russian here. His book "Private Truth, Public Lies: The Social Consequences of Preference Falsification", which came out the same year, was recognized by Tyler Cowen, author of the influential blog Marginal Revolution, as one of the most important economics books of the previous 20 years.

Another area of interest for Kurab is the economic and political ramifications of Islamic institutional penetration. In his book "The Long Discrepancy: How Islamic Law Restrained the Middle East" (2010), he provides a historical analysis of why the Middle East and Turkey lagged behind the West in development.

How Erdoğan won the first round of elections

What has surprised you most in the first round of elections?

Two things. One is that Kılıçdaroğlu, the opposition candidate, and the opposition coalition underperformed relative to polls. Personally, I expected Kılıçdaroğlu and his party to do even better than the polls indicated.

Pre-election polls and election results

Three days before the election, the Politico election poll aggregator gave opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu 49% in the first round and incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan 46%. But in the end, according to the results of the first round, Erdoğan got 49.51% of the votes and Kılıçdaroğlu — 44.88%. The nationalist candidate, Sinan Ogan, received 5.17%. The second round will be held on May 28.

The second surprise, perhaps related to the first, is that I expected all of Turkey’s 192,000 polling stations to have multiple election monitors belonging to the opposition. I expected them to video record the proceedings and take photos of the results. I thought that on election night the opposition would have all results fully documented, that it would be able to post all the data sent to the High Election Council. That turned out to be a flawed expectation. At least 20,000 polling stations had no opposition monitors, or opposition monitors had left them before the records were sent to the High Election Council, allowing data to be doctored.

Why do you think there was a difference between the polls and the actual results?

One factor is fraud. In many districts, the opposition's votes were systematically lowered in the High Election Council’s database in favor of Erdoğan’s coalition. There are reports of dead people voting and of people voting multiple times.

We don't know the magnitude of the fraud. The opposition itself doesn't know it because so many polling stations did not have monitors. And this is why the opposition has just dropped the issue (a few days after the election, the opposition admitted that "thousands" of violations did not affect their outcome - The Bell). It is profoundly embarrassing that they cannot show the actual vote count for each polling station.

The second factor is that the polls overestimated the share of people supporting the opposition who would turn out to vote. Perhaps they also underestimated turnout by the president's supporters. This is speculation, but it could be that some Kılıçdaroğlu supporters considered Erdoğan invincible and, hence, voting to be futile.

Why did you expect the vote for Kılıçdaroğlu to be more than in opinion polls?

I expected polling samples to have included hidden Kılıçdaroğlu supporters who falsified their preferences in favor of Erdoğan and his party. Preference falsification may have been a factor that was overwhelmed by the first two factors I mentioned — fraud and unanticipated differences in turnout rates.

So is this a failure of the opposition’s organization? That they didn't get enough monitors on the ground?

It is. Apparently there was not just negligence but also foul play. A person or people in the opposition’s election tracking organization was actually working for the regime. Many people in the opposition's public relations team and its election tracking team, including highly placed operatives, were fired after the first round. We don't exactly know what happened on election night. Clearly, though, something went terribly wrong.

You wrote on Twitter that the opposition seemed to be shocked after the first round. How do you evaluate subsequent behavior?

The opposition had very high expectations. Many opponents of Erdoğan thought that a comfortable first-round win was in reach. The results greatly demoralized the opposition (as the FT noted, Kılıçdaroğlu even had to record a video the day after the election to confirm that he exists — The Bell).

Especially demoralizing was that the opposition was poorly organized at its election headquarters and that more than 10% of the polling stations were unmonitored even though opposition leaders had said repeatedly over the the past two years that there would be no glitches during the election process.

But the opposition now has a second chance to win the biggest prize: the presidency. There's a sense that this requires — immediately — better organization. It’s possible. There is an understanding that this is Turkey's last chance to avoid full blown dictatorship and a point of no return.

Many opposition supporters are even more fired up in round two than in round one. The opposition turnout may even increase. And at the same time, there are supporters of Erdoğan and his coalition who feel he's invincible. That may lower turnout for Erdoğan. The difference in votes is not huge — a 2.5 percentage point swing in the direction of Kılıçdaroğlu would hand him victory. If the opposition turnout is large enough, vote rigging may not matter to the outcome.

You have written that Kılıçdaroğlu's tone has become more assertive, emphasizing two issues likely to resonate with nationalist voters (who constitute 25% of the electorate): the repatriation of millions of refugees and lessening Turkey's dependence on Putin. However, earlier in his campaign he focused on honesty, anti-corruption, and democracy. Does this new strategy aim to bring on board Ogan's supporters? Will it help?

Right. Before round one, Kılıçdaroğlu used a very soft tone. He emphasized the possible gains from his winning the election and highlighted Turkey’s potential. Now, he has shifted to negative campaigning. And he is focusing on two areas where he perceives — correctly, I think — that Erdoğan is vulnerable.

Kılıçdaroğlu has started making a big issue of the repatriation of refugees. That can certainly matter because Turks across the board, whether Kılıçdaroğlu or Erdoğan supporters, want refugees to be repatriated — not just Syrian, but also refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other places. They feel the numbers are too large, that entire neighborhoods, towns and cities have been taken over by cultural aliens. Whatever one thinks of these views, repatriation is an important issue in the elections. And the only floating voters are Turkish nationalists. They feel very strongly about the repatriation of refugees. Many of them blame Erdoğan for not securing Turkey’s borders.

Ogan’s endorsement of Erdoğan might help. But I don't think that Ogan (on Monday he publicly supported Erdoğan — The Bell) has a great deal of influence. He got many protest votes. Voters who didn't like either Kılıçdaroğlu or Erdoğan voted for him as the only alternative (three days before the ford round elections, after a sex scandal, former Kılıçdaroğlu ally Muharrem Ince, who was predicted to get 2–3% of the vote, dropped out — The Bell). Some of Ogan’s voters, if they go to the polls, will vote for Erdoğan. Others will vote for Kılıçdaroğlu and that wouldn't have changed if Ogan had endorsed Kılıçdaroğlu. Ogan’s endorsement might swing some people to vote for Erdoğan, but in my opinion it won’t be a major factor.

It's no secret that the Kremlin supports Erdoğan during this election. And Kılıçdaroğlu requested the Kremlin not to interfere. Are relations with Russia a big issue?

Relations with Russia have not been a defining issue. But it is a secondary issue. Erdoğan’s opponents feel that, under him, Turkey has become too dependent on Russia. They say that getting a huge share of the country's energy from a single country makes Turkey vulnerable to blackmail. This concern is what Kılıçdaroğlu is trying to exploit. He is reminding voters that Putin wants Erdoğan to win because Erdoğan built this dependency — a dependency that works in Russia's favor on matters of interest to Russia, such as its war with Ukraine.

How Erdoğan manages to stay in power

What are the main differences between Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu for voters? Do they feel it’s democracy versus autocracy?

There are multiple divisions. First is the one you just pointed out. Erdoğan stands for one-man rule. Kılıçdaroğlu is the democrat in the race. One of his promises is that he would dismantle the new government system, decentralize power and reinstate parliamentary democracy. Powers would again be divided between parliament, the judiciary and the executive — rather than being concentrated at the top.

The other big difference is that Kılıçdaroğlu is an impeccably honest person who has a modest lifestyle and who — from all appearances — has never taken bribes, nor exploited political power for personal gain. He has committed himself to moving into Ankara’s old presidential palace, which is far more modest than the mega-palace that Erdoğan had built for himself.

Erdoğan’s regime is a corruption machine. We don't exactly know how many billions of dollars he has amassed, but his loot is substantial and his cronies are also immensely wealthy. This sort of corruption would end.

Not all corruption in Turkey would suddenly disappear. But there would be far less.

Is Islam an important topic during this election?

Yes, it has been a dividing line. Kılıçdaroğlu has tried to soften that dividing line. The party that he leads, CHP (or the Republican People's Party) was founded by Ataturk in the 1920s. Under Ataturk, the CHP drastically limited the role of religion in Turkish politics and open religiosity diminished. At the same time, genuinely pious Turks found it necessary to downplay their religiosity during the Ataturk years and those of his immediate successor. They were made to feel ashamed of being religious.

Those experiences are remembered bitterly by Erdoğan’s supporters, or at least some of them. As CHP leader, Kılıçdaroğlu has tried to assure voters that the CHP will promote secularism in the sense of separation between religion and state, but also that it would respect and protect the rights of the religious people. He has emphasized that the CHP is not anti-religious; that pious people have nothing to worry about; that women wearing headscarves will not be blocked from admission to universities or from working for the government.

For his part, Erdoğan constantly reminds voters of CHP’s history. Some of his religious supporters are not convinced that CHP’s approach has changed.

You already said an Erdoğan victory would be a point of no return for Turkey. Why?

In each of his terms as Turkey’s leader, Erdoğan has sought the destruction of certain democratic or liberal institutions of the Republic, which was founded 100 years ago. He would continue this process. His capture of the judiciary, the military, the educational system and other major institutions would make the playing field between the opposition and the ruling coalition so tilted as to rule out even what Kılıçdaroğlu has accomplished. After all, Kılıçdaroğlu came quite close to unseating Erdoğan in round one. In the event of an Erdoğan win, such an achievement at the polls will become impossible to replicate.

The demoralization of Turkish democrats and liberals would continue. People who could make a difference to Turkey’s future would quietly emigrate. There has already been a huge brain drain. Many skilled Turks have left because they want more freedoms. This would continue. Given Erdoğan’s health problems, a successor could emerge if he remained in power, ensuring the indefinite continuation of one-man rule.

Of course, Erdoğan’s health could prove destabilizing if it generates a succession struggle. It’s worth noting that he has not designated a successor after his son-in-law Berat Albayrak was sidelined.

Weren't you surprised that, despite the economic crisis and runaway inflation,  Erdoğan seemed to have enough support? And that he got a lot of votes in places that suffered from the recent earthquake?

There's a lesson to be drawn from this: control of the media matters. More than 90% of Turkey's media, both television and print, are controlled by Erdoğan. Many newspapers and TV channels are owned by Erdoğan’s cronies. Others are kept in line through the power of the purse. State contracts go to conglomerates whose media wings favor Erdoğan.

There is an agreement between the companies that own big media and the regime: the companies keep their newspapers and TV channels supportive of the government, and, in return, the government swings contracts in their direction.

Many people get their news exclusively from state-connected channels or papers. People like this hear that Turkey's economy has just grown leaps and bounds: they hear success stories about Turkish exports, the global reach of Turkish Airlines and other such pleasing information. They are also bombarded with stories about economic problems in other countries like France, Germany or the United States. Because of their exposure to such biased news, many come to believe that Turkey is doing well economically.

Insofar as such people face problems in their daily lives, like high inflation, they believe, again because of what they learn from government-friendly news sources, that these are the result of plots by Western or Jewish bankers — or some foreign conspiracy to keep Turkey down.

All the bad news that one notices as an outsider, for example the economy being close to collapse, doesn’t necessarily reach all Turks. A substantial share of people believe the economy is doing quite well and that the problems they experience can easily be overcome. They consider Turkey’s trajectory to be impressive.

On the earthquake, they believe that the destruction resulted was an act of God and that the government did what it could to rescue people. It’s all they saw on their television channels.

Turkish-born economist Daron Acemoglu suggests that one potential advantage of a Erdoğan victory is that it may hasten an economic crisis that could undermine the regime. Do you share this view?

It could. Not everybody who voted for Erdoğan believes the economy is doing well. A majority of Turks believe, in fact, that the economy is doing terribly, and that Erdoğan has made a mess of it. They blame him for sky-high inflation and the Turkish Lira’s declining value. They support him for other reasons, mainly cultural matters and external relations.

The proportion of voters blaming Erdoğan for economic problems would rise if unemployment were to jump dramatically and government transfers were to diminish in real terms because of inflation. Turkey already has the second highest inflation rate [among large countries]  in the world after Argentina (Turkish inflation is currently running at about 43.7% — The Bell).

But growing discontent would not necessarily result in Erdoğan being toppled. A split in his coalition could create an opening. Even if he were ousted, it would not necessarily bring about a transition to democracy. A more likely outcome is what we might call a palace coup. Erdoğan would be pushed aside, possibly on the grounds of his deteriorating health, and somebody younger would take his place.

Venezuela offers an interesting case as its economy has been burnt to the ground. Though it has the largest petroleum reserves in the world, it has become one of Latin America's poorest countries. Despite this catastrophic performance, the Maduro regime has endured. Millions of Venezuelans have left the country, reducing pressure on the regime. The same could happen in Turkey: if the economic rot continues, millions of Turks would try to escape to the West.

Branko Milanovic said in an interview with The Bell that elites could be the source of change in Putin's Russia because they better understand right now that an autocratic regime is not sustainable for them. It's better to have rule of law because that's the only way you can save your assets. What do business elites in Turkey, who make money under Erdoğan's rule, but maybe will not make them under someone else's rule, think?

The business elites are divided. Many leading business people are hedging their bets. Though they have kept quiet during the Erdoğan period, secretly they have supported the opposition. Privately, they complain routinely about the huge bribes they have to pay to run their businesses.

Including financial support for the opposition?

Yes. There are some who do it directly through party membership, but assistance is mostly indirect. They don't want to make their opposition to the incumbent regime public. The reason is that they want to avoid jeopardizing their relations with the regime, in case Erdoğan wins.

At the same time, they know that if rule of law deteriorates even further, the country will suffer and their own wealth will become insecure.

The Armed Forces has always been a noticeable actor in Turkish politics. And since the coup in 2016 they seem very quiet. What do they think?

The military has been a major player in Turkish politics in the past. Under the constitution in place until 2010, it had a supervisory role in Turkish politics. It had a right to intervene when it felt that Ataturk’s reforms were in danger.

That changed as a result of a constitutional referendum in 2010. The military was sidelined. Since then, Erdoğan has been trying to put the military firmly under his control.

But a full turnover in the military officer corps takes about 30 years. The lower ranks of this corps were in their twenties in 2010. Now, they are in their thirties or forties. Since they include officers raised as secularists, Erdoğan does not have full control.

He doesn't trust the military, which is why he used it sparingly in the earthquake rescue efforts. Traditionally, when Turkey suffered an earthquake, all military units in the area, possibly units from all across the country, come and help. Erdoğan was afraid that, if soldiers started mingling with the people, they would get politicized.

If Erdoğan wins, the military will fall entirely under his control. He will go much further than he already has in purging untrustworthy officers.

Do you think there could be street protests if Erdoğan wins?

If it's a close election, probably yes. There exists incontrovertible evidence of fraud in the first round and it has circulated widely on social media. So, no one in opposition believes that round one was clean. But if Erdoğan wins by a wide margin, say 55% to 45%, I doubt there'll be more than small demonstrations. And Erdoğan and his cronies will feel that they have a mandate to crush them.

Yet, when demonstrations get going, how they will end is inherently unpredictable. Things might happen on the night of May 28, or the following day, that touch a nerve.

Lessons for Russia and the world

Russia and Turkey seemed to me to have similar trajectories. You have written that, during the ‘Erdoğan Era’, there was an erosion of democratic institutions. Is it correct to say that society in Turkey accepted it quietly?

There has been resistance. A good example is Bogaziçi University in Istanbul — until recently this was a very well-functioning and highly-ranked international university known as a hotbed of opposition to Erdoğan’s one-man rule. Two years ago, he decided to take it over simply because he could. By decree, without any discussion at the university, he fired its elected rector and appointed one of his cronies. The new rector has established new departments, even new schools. He has altered the curriculum and fired professors on political grounds. Faculty at the university continue to protest daily. But, under the current conditions, that's really all they can do. Some student protestors were arrested and put in jail.

When a president has as much power as Erdoğan does, he can destroy an institution that he considers a threat. The independent thinking of Boğaziçi University professors remains a threat to Erdoğan.

The lesson for Russia here is that when a ruler amasses as much power as Erdoğan or Putin has, what civil society can do is limited. The best opponents can do in the short run is to keep hope alive, to keep signaling to others that they exist, and to hope that conditions one day allow them to form an opposition coalition.

It took immense ingenuity for Turkey’s opposition to form the type of broad-based coalition that would generate as much hope as we have seen. If Kılıçdaroğlu loses round two, it won’t be easy to replicate it. But he and his fellow leaders have shown that it is possible. Even in Turkey’s hyper-polarized political environment, people from across Turkey’s political spectrum can work together.

Where does Erdoğan's popularity come from?

Just as Russia has a history of being a major imperial power, Turkey has had long periods of global prominence. And, like Putin, Erdoğan has kindled hopes among some people that Turkey will again become a major power: a power akin to the Ottoman Empire at its peak in the 16th century. Some Turks believe, in fact, that he's taking Turkey in that direction. His allies in the media constantly produce programs that make it seem that Turkey is returning to days of glory. Erdoğan-friendly media say that the rest of the world looks up to Turkey, that it’s advancing scientifically and that its exports and economy are growing.

Some of the people who believe stories of Turkey’s advances are completely convinced that Erdoğan and his family are highly corrupt. They still support him because it makes them feel good when he stands up to foreign leaders and when he challenges the United States or other foreign powers.

Many of Trump’s supporters in the United States disapprove of Trump’s lifestyle. They also know he is highly corrupt. But he gives them hope and dignity. They believe that, unlike most other Democratic or Republican leaders, he puts America's interests above foreign interests.

Putin seems to be using the same playbook as Trump and Erdoğan. In any society, large numbers of people who are suffering economically and have lost social status don't feel good about themselves. Doing things that make them feel good (in Putin’s case, trying to rebuild the Russian Empire) is a winning strategy.

What can the opposition do about this?

The best counter-strategy is to show voters that the leader is not improving the country's international standing, that he is actually doing harm. Russia does not become stronger if neutral countries join NATO.

Turkey’s economy suffers in the long term when you destroy its premier public university. Being highly dependent for energy on Russia — a large and nuclear-armed maritime neighbor — is inconsistent with the narrative of Turkey becoming a great power. Kılıçdaroğlu reminding voters of Turkey’s dependence on Russia undercuts Erdoğan’s narrative that he is making Turkey great again.

The Russian opposition is demoralized and its leaders are in jail. Many in Russia are either afraid to speak out against the war or else they support the Kremlin. And we don't know how many people support Putin and the war because opinion polls are not a very reliable way to measure support in an autocratic regime. What can be done to break this spiral of silence?

One thing that can be done is to obtain more accurate information on domestic opposition to the war and about the sense that Russia is failing. There is a need for reliable information on whether people understand Russia’s economic failures and its international standing.

You're not going to get reliable answers from polls that ask people what they themselves think or prefer. The respondents will mistrust pollsters, fearing that they are government agents trying to identify pockets of dissent. If they answer truthfully, their answers may come back to haunt them.

For more reliable answers, one can ask them about what they believe their neighbors think. In this case, people are much more likely to answer truthfully because they don't have to take responsibility.

There is also a list experiment, which gives respondents a series of experiences or statements. Respondents are asked to say how many pertain to them. The experiment is divided into two groups: a control and a treatment group whose list contains a sensitive question. Since the respondents are asked to give a number without saying which of the items in the list pertain to them, the difference between the average numbers of the control and treatment groups gives the proportion of people who share the sensitive view. In this context, the sensitive view might be that Russia’s war with Ukraine was a mistake.

It appears that even among those Russians who oppose the war in Ukraine, there is often condemnation and criticism. For example, those who have left the country may condemn those who remain because they continue to pay taxes. Which strategy is more effective for an opposition: emphasizing polarization or adopting a more moderate approach?

I don't think that stigmatizing people who are living in Russia and dealing with the government is a viable strategy. Nor do I think it's a fair strategy because Russian citizens trying to feed their families may have no alternative to working for the government. For self-survival, they may have to do things that they don't like. They may not have the luxury of leaving Russia. If they were able to get out, there might not be a suitable job abroad. People may have elderly parents. There are many reasons why people may not be able to leave. To stigmatize Russians who have no choice but to live under Putin will drive them into Putin's camp.

I think one has to draw some lines and to give the Russian people examples of the sorts of behaviors that they should not undertake when they have a choice. They should choose not to support the government in ways that are avoidable. But it is not wrong to remain employed at a government-owned bank or to even to serve in the military if they are trapped. To form a broad-based coalition, one has to avoid stigmatizing potential allies. And one must understand where they're coming from. One must reach out even to people currently supporting Putin. Some of them may be amenable to changing camps.

It seems to me that Turkey still has more functioning institutions than Russia. Elections are more competitive, for example. Although I'm pretty sure that Erdoğan and Putin had pretty much the same general intentions — i.e. to wield absolute power. Why has Erdoğan been less successful?

Erdoğan came to power in 2002 in a country with a history of secularization going back to the mid-19th century and strong secular institutions. Turkey had a tradition of divided power going back to 1946 when multiparty democracy was established.

Erdoğan has increased his power in steps and he has been masterful when it comes to timing. He's also been a master at forming alliances of convenience, which he dismantles when his purpose has been served. He has a long record of turning against allies when he's finished using them.

At one point, he built an alliance with the far left by promising to drive the military out of politics. The alliance appealed to the far left as they expected it to give them greater freedoms. So, the far left voted for the constitutional change that sidelined the military. Once Erdoğan had what he wanted, he cracked down. Prominent leftists, including civil society leaders and journalists, are in jail.

The pattern was repeated with Fethullah Gulen, the imam that lives in Pennsylvania and has a big following in Turkey and elsewhere. Erdoğan formed an alliance with him against the secularists and used Gulen and his supporters to frame the military and imprison hundreds of generals, to purge the judiciary of secularists who threatened his one-man rule, and to seize control of the police force. Once these aims were accomplished, he split with Gulen and started a witch hunt against Gulenists. The crackdown continues.

So Erdoğan's co-option strategies have been successful. It is taking longer to destroy Turkey’s civil society because, relative to Russia, Turkey has had more time to build civic institutions. Unlike Russia, Turkey escaped a long period of Communist rule. Two or three generations of Russia did not experience the relative openness and freedoms that Turks enjoyed.

Turkey has never had a perfect democracy. It has always been flawed. The military watched, and it intervened if it felt necessary. Nonetheless, Turkey experienced many decades of vibrant political competition.

A couple of weeks ago The Economist suggested that elections in Turkey are the most important elections this year because, if Erdoğan, autocratic regimes all over the world will be encouraged. Do you agree with this? And what will the consequences for the world be if Erdoğan wins?

I agree with The Economist. If Kılıçdaroğlu succeeds — and it's possible that he will — people all across the Muslim world, including Arab countries, Iran and Pakistan, will see that it is possible to stand up against political Islam. Political Islam is quite unpopular in many parts of the world, including Egypt and Iran. But people haven't succeeded in toppling it.

The lesson will be that, if you form a coalition that unites secular and religious people, then it is possible to prevail. Iran is full of angry people, including many religious Iranians who are fed up with the theocracy, which they consider a corruption racket that pays lip service to religion. What Iran is lacking now is a leader like Kılıçdaroğlu. Such leadership emerges through patient coalition building. This would be the lesson that, for instance, Egyptians could learn.

Soon after its foundation in 1923, the Turkish Republic made secularism one of its guiding principles. Turkey became a role model for numerous other countries that adopted secularism in one form or another, including Pakistan, Tunisia and Egypt. Turkey’s bold move legitimized secularism in the Muslim world. Ataturk became a role model for Habib Bourguiba in Tunisia, Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt, and, in some respects, Muhammad Ali Jinnah in Pakistan.

A similar cross-country diffusion could follow now if Kılıçdaroğlu manages to defeat a regime that legitimizes itself through religion. People elsewhere would try to replicate his success. Would we see repeats immediately? Probably not. It could take years, even decades in some places.

The diffusion need not be limited to the Muslm world. Autocracies exist in the Balkans, in Central Europe, in the Caucasus to Turkey’s east, in Russia, and elsewhere. There's discontent in those countries. They would draw inspiration from the Turkish experience. That’s why Turkey’s presidential runoff is extremely important to the world and why everyone will be watching closely on May 28.

Interview by Slava Dvornikov

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