“Whoever wins Istanbul wins Turkey,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man who has dominated Turkey’s political scene for more than 20 years, once said, taking his first steps as Istanbul mayor in 1994.
So when his party’s mayoral candidate in that city, Binali Yildirim, lost to Ekrem Imamoglu in 2019, Erdogan took it personally. Instead of accepting the result, he pressured Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council to annul the vote and hold the elections again three months later. However, the opposition won again, this time by a larger margin (only 13,000 separated the candidates in the first round, compared to 800,000 in the second round), so Erdogan was forced to accept the result.
Four years later, Turkish citizens go to the polls and the result is considered inconclusive. The united opposition alliance supporting Kemal Kilicdaroglu, rising inflation, the currency crisis and scandals stemming from the devastating earthquakes in February have put Erdogan in a difficult position ahead of the first round of elections on May 14. If no candidate gets 50% of the vote, the top two will meet in a runoff on May 28.
The question that arises is the following: If Erdogan ultimately loses, will he be able to do what he did in 2019?
“If the difference is greater than one unit, the Turkish president will have to accept the result. If the difference is very small, we are talking about another story.” points to Magazine the director of the Turkey Research Program at the Washington Institute and a historian specializing in Southeast Europe; Soner Cagaptayand explains:
“In this case, Erdogan could challenge the result, and the electoral institutions -which is essentially under your control- they could cancel the vote in some districts, calling for a second round. This will only happen if the difference is less than one unit or a few seats to control Parliament, a development that will open Pandora’s Box.”
However, recalling the Istanbul elections, Mr Cagaptay stresses that it is not a “guide” for Erdogan, as even his party’s electoral base does not question the legitimacy of the process. In this context, he recalls that many of those who voted for Erdogan’s candidate in 2019 turned to his opponent in the second round.
“Therefore, I consider it a dangerous step if you decide to cancel the election in case the difference is more than one unit. I should accept the result and resign.”
This opinion is shared by the political consultancy Eurasia Group, which foresees that in a defeat by the minimum Erdogan will request the annulment of the results – to which the Supreme Electoral Council can refuse – and will summon his followers to the streets of the main cities from the country. country Türkiye. Turkey’s military, which has suffered large-scale purges since the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016, will try to remain neutral, so everything will depend on the ability and willingness of the police to maintain order.
Erdogan’s strong “papers”.
Lest Erdogan get to that point, and having recently recaptured much of the lost ground, limiting public discussion of the earthquake and shifting the domestic agenda to Turkey’s industrial and military achievements under his leadership, he is being asked to energize his conservative , Islamist, nationalist base and opposition division. For this, he uses scare tactics. Try to connect Kilicdaroglu to terrorism.citing his support for pro-Kurdish parties.
“Government media are already reproducing claims that the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is fully aligned with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), so the HDP-backed opposition coalition is supporting the terrorism”. says Soner Cagaptay, however, estimating that this strategy may not produce the results desired by Erdogan.
At this point he brings into the equation Erdogan’s greatest strength, which is control of information. Given his overwhelming influence in the media and the fact that around 80% of the population cannot read languages other than Turkish, framing the message has become one of his most powerful tools for winning votes. However, many have turned to social media platforms for free news, but the Turkish president has also taken steps to reduce that.
“Essentially,” as Mr. Cagaptay characteristically notes, “Citizens see the world through the meta-truth modeled by Erdogan”.
On the other hand, the 74-year-old Alevi who wants to bring changes to the country and uproot -according to his statement- the old system is called upon to maintain the cohesion of a diverse coalition of social democrats, secularists, Islamists and nationalists to succeed. In addition, the support of Kurdish and left-wing voters must be secured.
Most importantly, Kilicdaroglu convinces citizens that he can effectively lead the six-party coalition and work with the legislature to solve Turkey’s economic problems.
“It is the first time that the opposition looks Erdogan in the eye in a united way” points out Soner Cagaptay, citing two factors that favor it:
to) The fact that for the first time Erdogan does not have the opportunity to play the “card” of economic development, which in the past was decisive for his success. He has won nearly a dozen national elections, in large part due to economic relief for voters, improving access to services like health care, and bringing economic prosperity and stability. “I think that’s his Achilles heel”.
b) The change, in 2018, of the presidential system, a fact that contributed to the mobilization of the opposition. In previous elections, Erdogan was able to appeal to his nativist base by demonizing Turkey’s various political groups, including leftists, liberals, Kurds and Alevis, among others. And since these groups had split into several smaller, more competitive parties, they were not strong enough to withstand this pressure.
The injection factor
One of the most crucial factors that will determine the outcome goes by the name of Muharrem Ince, whose application created new data and brought satisfaction to Erdogan’s camp. A politician who comes out of the “guts” of the official opposition party.
The motives behind his candidacy remain a mystery, with many speculating that even Erdogan himself may be behind his insistence. For the Turkish president, Ince is a key asset and the government has done everything possible to raise the profile of his campaign. According to the polls he is below 10% and has no chance of winning, but the main thing is that his support comes mainly from voters who would support Kilicdaroglu.
According to Soner Cagaptay, if Inge works with other independent candidates to secure 5% of the vote, we will likely be headed for a second ballotsince neither Erdogan nor Kilicdaroglu will collect 50%. “And in this case, I think Erdogan’s strategy – since he has won the battle in Parliament – will be to tell the Turkish people that a divided government would be a disaster for Turkey and that they should re-elect him to the presidency in order to maintain stability. On the contrary, if he has lost Parliament, he will pose the dilemma of concentrating all powers in one person.”
It is possible, therefore, that the politicians of the Republican People’s Party consider Ince a traitor, but for Erdogan, he could become a savior…