Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proved to the world once again that he is too hard to die politically. On Sunday’s runoff election, he got 52.14 per cent against 47.86 per cent of his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu and so he will continue to be President until 2028 and will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Turkey’s establishment as a Republic, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. In the first round of Turkey’s presidential elections held on May 14, Erdogan proved wrong almost all opinion polls which showed the leader of the opposition Kemal Kilicdaroglu leading the polls. Erdogan got 49.5 per cent of the vote, four percentage points ahead of Kilicdaroglu. As a result, Turkish voters for the first time ever had to go to the ballot box for a second time to elect the next president.
After three stints as Prime Minister and two as President, Erdogan was already Turkey’s longest-serving leader, but this time he was facing the biggest challenge in his political life, as the country is facing skyrocketing inflation that led to a huge cost of living crisis. At the same time, the Turkish Lira, which at the start of Erdogan’s career was roughly 1.50 to the US dollar, is now at a record low of more than 20 to the dollar. Moreover, he has been facing criticism for following unorthodox economic policies by pushing the Turkish Central Bank to repeatedly lower interest rates, something that fuelled inflation and depleted the country’s foreign exchange reserves- and also for the slow response on the part of the state to the devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people and rendered millions of people homeless. The big question is how Erdogan has convinced the majority of people, despite the very difficult conditions they are facing in their everyday life, as well as the suppression of freedom of expression and assembly, to go to the polling stations and vote for him.
Erdogan headed to the runoff election, having secured strong allies who gave him the push he needed to touch victory. With the support of Devlet Bahceli, head of the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the extreme Islamist Huda Par party, as well as having locked in the support of the third candidate, the nationalist Sinan Ogan- who had received 5.2 per cent in the first round of the vote, Erdogan headed confidently into the second round. Trying to win over voters, Erdogan has increased wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills, and at the same time projected the big infrastructure projects built by his government. He also stirred national pride by giving emphasis on the successes of the country’s defence industry, mainly combat drones, battle tanks and the Landing Platform Dock TCG Anadolu, while presenting Kilicdaroglu as a potential killer of the country’s defence industry. He also centred his re-election campaign on a promise to rebuild quake-stricken areas, including constructing 319,000 homes within the year, a promise that is quite unrealistic. However, many people see him as trustworthy and a source of stability as well as a statesman who raised the country’s influence in world politics.
Erdogan played very skilfully the nationalist card, accusing his opponent of supporting “Kurdish terrorism,” while he presented himself as the leader who has the guts to stand up to the West and as the protector of Turkey’s security and national interest. As the country is profoundly nationalistic, even people who find it very hard to make ends meet, due to the rampant inflation, feel duty-bound to support him because “he protects the nation” and is the person who will restore Turkey to its former Ottoman glory. But despite the hard times facing Turkish families, Erdogan has continued to draw support from his base, which includes religious Muslims, conservative and working-class people who felt largely ignored under previous governments. They credit him for restoring the profile of Islam in the country and for allowing women to wear the Muslim headscarf in the civil service, schools and universities. The fact that Erdogan and his business allies control about 90 per cent of the media undoubtedly played a big role in his election success.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimated that Erdogan received 60 times as much airtime on the TRT Haber state broadcaster as Kilicdaroglu last month. It is noteworthy that Kemal Kilicdaroglu, breaking a taboo in mainly Sunni Turkey, announced that he is an Alevi. His campaign in the first round was built on inclusiveness and seeking consensus and reconciliation in Turkey’s divided and deeply polarized society. He also promised to scale back Erdogan’s executive presidential powers and return the country to a parliamentary system. In the run-off election, the six-party coalition supporting Kilicdaroglu, still reeling from the shock of the first round of elections, changed radically its strategy. It changed Kilicdaroglu’s previous messages of inclusion and democracy and focused solely on his anti-refugee promises, reiterating a pledge to send refugees back to their countries of origin.
Kilicdaroglu also changed his “grandfather” and “Turkey’s Gandhi” image to one of “a tough leader”, especially in the question of the millions of Syrian refugees in Turkey. More importantly, after Erdogan announced that he received the backing of the Kurdish Islamist Huda Par Party, Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan of colluding with “terrorists.” Furthermore, in an attempt to fish for voters from the far-right, Kilicdaroglu reached an agreement with the nationalist Umit Ozdag, leader of the Victory Party, agreeing not to reinstate democratically elected Kurdish mayors in Turkey’s south-east who were previously replaced by Erdogan with state appointees as part of the crackdown on Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). This move has caused resentment among pro-Kurdish voters, and although the pro-Kurdish party expressed support for the opposition candidate in order to prevent the election of Erdogan, it has undoubtedly lost tens of thousands of Kurdish votes for Kilicdaroglu. Most probably the defeat of Kilicdaroglu would mean his political end and his departure from the Republican Party, with the prevailing name for his successor being that of Ekrem Imamoglu. (ANI)