A silent protest, or why Recep Tayyip Erdogan may lose the election

This time the elections are held on a symbolic day: on May 14, 1950, the Republican People’s Party, founded by the founder of the democratic Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, lost the democratic elections. It was only the second election with a multi-party system – the Kemalists won four years earlier. The next time the Kemalists came to power was after a military coup in 1960.

And now the Kemalist leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, has a great chance to become the new president of Turkey. Atatürk’s namesake used the same names in his campaign, putting forward the slogan “I’m Kemal, I’m coming!”

The current president and until recently the main contender for victory, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, represents the Justice and Development Party, which he created twenty-two years ago. Parallel to the presidential election, there are also parliamentary elections, but we will talk about them next time after the summary of the voting results.

I must say that the rule of Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party is very similar to the Central Asian countries of the former Soviet Union, Russia or Belarus, where one leader comes to power and never leaves – only if he dies, becomes disabled or is able to hand over power within own family, as in Turkmenistan.

But unlike these examples, Erdogan – for the first time in 2001 – was indeed elected by the Turkish people. More precisely, not Erdogan himself, but his party. He himself, having served a prison sentence for publicly reading (inciting religious discord and violence) a poem written a hundred years ago by a pan-Turkish poet, was unable to become prime minister. He was given this opportunity two years later, when he managed to change the law. It is not the first time, nor will it be the last, that Erdogan has used legislative changes to seize or keep power.

The elections that will take place on Sunday are also a consequence of changes, not only in the law, but also in the Turkish constitution. The changes were made largely so that Erdogan could ignore the ban on holding the presidency for more than two terms.

There seems to have been something similar in Russia with the Constitution.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan had electoral difficulties in the previous, early elections in 2018, the first after the constitutional reform. I note that she abolished the position of prime minister, which Erdogan held for more than 11 years, from 2003 to 2014. And in 2014, Erdogan won Turkey’s first direct presidential election. In 2016, Erdogan successfully survived an attempted military coup, cracked down on its participants and those who were simply reprehensible, and launched a strong movement towards authoritarian rule. A coup just helped him win in 2018. Voters voted not for Erdogan, but against the religious organization of writer and preacher Fethullah Gülen. After all, it was Erdogan who introduced a series of reforms early in his reign that made Turkey a secular Muslim country. For example, women don’t have to wear hijab if they don’t want to.

But now the Turkish people are very tired of Erdogan.

It would seem that the population does not protest too much – but we will see protests at the ballot boxes. Voters are not asking the president to leave office early – they are ready to wait another day or two weeks, until the second round of voting, to finally say goodbye to Erdogan.

And he lost not only the votes of the electorate, but also his former strong support in his own Justice and Development Party.

The most deteriorating reputation of the president as a successful political leader was the recent catastrophic earthquake. The trouble is not only that it claimed over 50,000 lives, but also that voters realized that people were dying because of very poor quality construction, which officials “didn’t notice”. And Erdogan is to blame for this – because he exceeded the maximum powers.

The economic crisis also played a significant role in reducing Erdogan’s popularity, only affecting his electorate. Corruption in construction that caused the earthquake, causing such huge casualties, and not only in construction, has left Erdogan’s relatives and high-ranking members of his party living in luxury – and millions of debt-ridden voters live overnight .

Turks hope that the new president will direct national wealth to improve the lives of ordinary people, not officials or relatives. He will begin to fulfill election promises, and not treat them as empty words.

It is also necessary to say about the relationship between Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin. Now there are publications that Russia has not received or spent tens and hundreds of millions of dollars in support of Erdogan. They certainly have a special relationship, even though Turkey is supplying arms to Ukraine and Russian troops are fighting in Ukraine. Putin is important to Erdogan in the same way that Erdogan is important to Putin: there are few leaders in the world who are truly friendly to both politicians. Both Erdogan and Putin benefit from their friendship: the Turkish leader in the form of investments, e.g. in the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, reductions in gas prices and payment deferrals, and the Russian – the possibility of receiving goods prohibited for supplies to Russia via Turkey.

Finally, an overview of the situation in Turkey. Muharrem Ince did withdraw from Thursday’s presidential election, but not because he decided to support Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Ince is well aware that he will lose the election, and presidential candidates cannot run for parliament, where Muharrem is almost guaranteed a seat.


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