Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Photo: Public Domain

Sait Akgul on what went wrong in the recent elections

The results

Having ruled Turkey over 20 years as president and having previously been a prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was making yet another victory speech on 28 May 2023, beating his rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu by 52% to 48 % in the runoff election.

No candidate won the initial round on 14 May. Erdoğan secured 49.5% of the votes with Kılıçdaroğlu getting 45 % while the ultra-nationalist Sinan Oğan won 5% out of nowhere.

Two elections were held on 14 May, one for the Parliament, the Turkish Grand Assembly, and the other for being the office of President. The election was fought with individual parties forming alliances together on 3 camps.

The Presidential pact included Erdoğan’s AKP, Bahçeli’s MHP (Fascist grey wolves) and a couple of other minor parties with next to no votes. The Nation Pact involved Kılıçdaroğlu’s secular liberal CHP, Akşener’s reformed nationalists the IYIP, and a few smaller groups including ex Erdoğan ministers’ level). The Ata Pact included Sinan Oğan and Ümit Özdağ both with ultra nationalist with Anti-Kurdish and Anti-Migrant tendencies.

The Parliamentary election results were such that although Erdoğan’s party only got 35% of the overall vote, they still managed to form a parliamentary majority with the MHP (10%). The election system allowed these two parties to gain well over 50% of the seats whilst their total vote was 45%. Kılıçdaroğlu’s CHP won 22.6%, the IYIP 9.9% and the pro-Kurdish YSP (Green Left Party) 8.8%.

How did Erdoğan win?

Despite causing more than 50 000 official deaths the earthquake didn’t shake the foundation of the AKP. The votes counted in favour of Erdoğan were high in those areas affected. The earthquake is often considered as an act of God and sometimes even a punishment by God. The scientific reasons are ignored by some of the population and the few academics who tried to highlight the scientific reasons were largely ignored. So too were the criminal activities of the local and central government who were responsible for planning control. There are multiple reasons for Erdoğan’s victory.

Intimidation and misuse of position: The almost total control of media by financial and oppressive regulatory practice was the main reason Erdoğan won. The use of state funds and buildings gave him an extra advantage and added to that he used open intimidation of the opposition parties, with attacks on election tents, raids on offices (in the case of YSP – Green Left Party) and attacks with bullets and stones on opposition crowds (in the case of CHP).

Recruitment of 3rd candidate into ranks: Erdoğan was boosted by Sinan Oğan joining his camp between the two legs of the elections. Although observers don’t think all of his vote followed him, a shift of as much as 1% did take place.

Problems in the opposition Ranks: Many believe that Erdoğan could have been challenged more effectively in the runoff stage. There were claims that the opposition camp was not effective at the vote count and allegations of betrayal were made against two CHP MPs who were accused of corroborating with Erdoğan during the initial elections. It was alleged they failed to keep a proper tally of the votes from the different corners of the country and relied instead on the Erdoğan-influenced Anatolian Agency results instead.

The opposition pact with nationalist Ümit Özdağ: Kılıçdaroğlu had won widespread respect when he defended human rights, criticised the unlawful detention of Selahattin Demirtaş (former HDP Leader) and Osman Kavala (an NGO leader) and demanded their immediate release. This was received very well in democratic circles in Turkey, and he became a focus of hope for a considerable section of society.

At the runoff stage however, he made a pact with the ultra-nationalist Ümit Özdağ, and this probably costed him hundreds of thousands of votes from the Southeast and East of Turkey. Özdağ called for the immediate deportation of over 4 million refugees, many of them Syrian. Özdağ is also in favour of military solution to the Kurdish Question and sees the HDP and Green Left Party as an extension of the Pro-Kurdish PKK into political life.

A few days prior to the runoff elections, Kılıçdaroğlu posted videos in which he parroted Özdağ’s lines about the Kurdish Struggle.  A quick comparison between the votes of two election episodes a fortnight apart proves that his rightward shift failed. The nationalist votes that Kılıçdaroğlu courted didn’t materialise. His nationalism was seen as fake.

Erdoğan’s skills and personal following: Erdoğan’s success doesn’t of course just rely on his opponents’ failure but also on his mastery of manipulation. His home-grown nationalist/Islamist ideology has a big base in Turkey. It is built on traditional religious values combined with hopes of an Ottoman-style future for the country. This is projected partly through talks and projects with Turkic and Islamist states and groups in Central Asia as well as Africa.  

The EU has helped too. Erdoğan managed to get billions of Euros from the EU in return for keeping refugees out of the EU. He has manipulated the situation surrounding the Ukraine war as a mediator on the transportation of grain protocol without falling out with NATO or Russia. Meanwhile his blackmailing of Sweden and Finland over NATO membership have kept him in the news. All of this has created sympathy with a large number of voters who see him as the new father of nation in the mould of Atatürk.

The future

The economic crisis in Turkey is deepening. The price of basic commodities is sky high and still rising. The working class will be the group worst effected group by this election. The Kurds are expected to be targeted as they took the side of the opposition and provided Kılıçdaroğlu with the votes that made him a serious contender. With Selahattin Demirtaş in jail and no prospect of dialogue, they need to decide their course of action. Erdoğan won’t be choosing dialogue with them unless it suits his purposes.  He relies on the war against the Kurds to cover injustices with the Turkish national Flag. During a victory rally after Sunday’s elections Erdoğan targeted Demirtaş in his speech and his crowd shouted “Hang Demirtaş”. The death penalty has been abolished in Turkey at the beginning of this century however the fascist tide is as such one doesn’t take any rights for granted there anymore.

Kılıçdaroğlu and his allies will find it hard to sustain their support unless they develop the democratic struggle further. There is little prospect of this as they tend to fall back into the nationalist ranks as soon as Erdogan and the Turkish state calls for parliamentary support for waging a war beyond its borders, usually against the Kurds in Iraq or Syria. As a result liberties will be attacked with more curbs on the media, arrest of journalists, defenders of human rights and a hostile atmosphere for LGTBQI communities.

The electoral opposition and the actual opposition are two different things in Turkey. As soon as the elections were over the nationalistic sentiments overtook most of the Kılıçdaroğlu camp. During the celebrations of 29 May related to the capture of Istanbul from Byzantium in 1453, the Kurdish movement was mentioned in loathsome speeches and all the rhetoric about removing Erdoğan with elections and restoring democracy was forgotten. In its place, the usual imaginary animosities against Greeks, Armenians and Kurds. The actual opposition remains the YSP-HDP, TIP with its newly elected Workers Party MPs, and some elements of the CHP.

Local elections are due next year and all eyes on how the alliances will be formed for them. There is absolutely no future in repeating the alliance of the first round of elections in which Kılıçdaroğlu seemed a unifier for the forces of democracy.

Sait Akgul – Civil Engineer, Member of Counterfire and Stop the War Coalition 

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