Kilicdaroglu dominates, Erdogan trails, and Kurds left to own devices in Turkish General and Presidential Election (II)

Gulay Icoz |

On May 14th, Turkey will hold a critical vote that will determine the fate of its democracy. The incumbent president and leader of the Justice Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is running against the opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who leads the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The campaign is intense, with Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years, facing stiff competition from Kilicdaroglu and the Nation Alliance, a coalition of six opposition parties: the True Party (CHP), Good Party (IP), Felicity Party (SP), Democrat Party (DP), Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), and Future Party (GP). Currently, it appears that Kemal Kilicdaroglu is winning while Erdogan is hardly making new gains.

While opinion polls do support my observation (POLITICO’s Poll of Polls puts the contest on a knife edge, meaning there will probably be a second round in the presidential vote on May 28), I base my assessment primarily on the discourse presented by the People’s Alliance, comprising the AKP, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and other parties like the Great Unity Party (BBP) and the New Welfare Party (YRP). The alliance is facing challenges in offering policies and instead appears to be focusing on attacking the Nation Alliance’s candidate, Kilicdaroglu, in a negative, threatening, and degrading way. Whereas, Kilicdaroglu and his team offers a solid united front with a full-blown democratic agenda. Their platform includes a commitment to bringing wrongdoers to justice, addressing the country’s economic challenges, and developing Turkey’s space industry to support entrepreneurs and scientists. The Kurdish votes could potentially play a significant role in this election, as they have the potential to be a kingmaker. However, the situation for Kurdish politicians remains the same, with many being excluded from mainstream politics and some facing arrest.

The People’s Alliance

The AKP’s strategy of delegitimizing their opponent and pre-emptively dismissing the possibility of a fair election is evident in the rhetoric used by Erdogan and his team at their rallies. Instead of promoting their own platform and highlighting their achievements, they focus on attacking their opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

One striking example of this is the statement made by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu in late April, in which he compared the upcoming general election to the failed coup attempt of July 15, 2016. This comparison is particularly significant given the trauma and division that the coup attempt caused in Turkey, and the widespread support that Erdogan and the AKP received in the aftermath. Soylu’s suggestion that the election itself could be another attempt at a coup undermines the very foundation of democracy and suggests that any outcome other than an AKP victory would be illegitimate.

Moreover, by framing the election in terms of a struggle against Western powers, Soylu and the AKP are attempting to rally nationalist sentiment and cast themselves as defenders of Turkish sovereignty. This is a familiar tactic for the AKP, which has consistently sought to portray itself as standing up to foreign interference and protecting Turkey’s interests against external threats. However, this rhetoric also serves to distract from domestic issues and the AKP’s own record in government.

In another example of the AKP’s election strategy, Erdogan used a speech in May to delegitimize Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy by associating him with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a group that is recognized as a foreign terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union. Specifically, Erdogan claimed that Kilicdaroglu was supported by the Qandil, a mountainous area in the Kurdistan Region near the Iraq-Iran border that served as the PKK’s main headquarters in the 1990s and is currently used as a base camp for Kurdish peshmerga forces.

By linking Kilicdaroglu to the PKK, Erdogan sought to tap into nationalist sentiment and portray his opponent as a threat to Turkey’s security and unity. Additionally, by asserting that the nation would not hand over control of the country to someone who received support from the Qandil, Erdogan effectively suggested that any victory by Kilicdaroglu would be illegitimate.

This strategy of delegitimizing opponents by linking them to terrorism is a familiar tactic for the AKP, which has consistently sought to portray itself as the sole defender of Turkey’s interests and the only party capable of ensuring stability and security. However, by using such divisive and inflammatory rhetoric, the AKP risks further polarizing Turkish society and undermining the democratic process.

The Nation Alliance

The opposition parties in Turkey have formed a strong and dynamic alliance, unlike the Hungarian alliance that was created against Viktor Orban in 2021, ahead of the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections.

Initially, the alliance faced a hurdle when Meral Aksener, the leader of the Good Party, opposed Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy for leadership. However, this disagreement was quickly resolved when it was agreed to introduce two vice-presidential positions to support Kilicdaroglu. This move effectively allowed Aksener to maintain her position as a prominent opposition figure while still supporting the alliance’s leader.

To further bolster their chances of success, the alliance strategically selected two of the CHP’s metropolitan mayors, Ekrem Imamoglu from Istanbul and Mansur Yavas from Ankara, as candidates to support Kilicdaroglu. Both mayors have garnered widespread support and recognition for their effective governance and efforts to promote transparency and accountability in their respective cities.

Since their selection as Kilicdaroglu’s running mates, Imamoglu and Yavas have worked closely with him and other alliance members to create a cohesive and united front against the ruling AKP party. They have also been active in their efforts to engage with voters and spread their message of hope and change across the country.

Overall, the opposition alliance in Turkey represents a significant challenge to the long-standing dominance of the AKP, and the alliance’s ability to overcome its initial disagreements and present a united front bodes well for its chances of success in the upcoming elections.

The Kurds

The Kurds have expressed their support for Kemal Kilicdaroglu for the Presidential elections for three main reasons. Firstly, they hope to get rid of President Erdogan and his ruling clique. Secondly, due to the arrests, detentions and political pressure they have faced, the Kurds could not field their own candidate. And finally, Kilicdaroglu has made some promises that have resonated with the Kurdish community.Handcuffed

However, the Kurds are facing challenges in terms of voters. Their former alliance member, the Turkish Workers Party (TIP), has emerged as a strong contender in the elections. Many people are finding TIP less contentious and with fresh ideas. This could make it difficult for the Kurds to gain significant representation in the elections.

In conclusion, the political pressure and arrests faced by the Kurds have hindered their efforts to achieve greater representation and autonomy, and unfortunately, they may end up being the main losers of this election. They cannot be sure that Kilicdaroglu would keep his promises after the election, since no official proposal was made to the Kurdish representatives.

As the elections are only a week away, the upcoming six days will be crucial for all political parties involved in the electoral campaign. It is expected that the tone of the campaign will become more intense and aggressive among the parties, as they make their final push to secure votes. Meanwhile, the electorate may be cautious and apprehensive about what could happen if the National Alliance wins and Erdogan follows in the footsteps of Donald Trump’s actions in the 2020 US presidential election. The potential consequences of such a scenario have left many voters feeling uneasy and uncertain about the future. If Erdogan were to refuse to concede or make claims of election fraud, it could create a tense and divisive political climate in Turkey. This uncertainty has created an added layer of stress for voters. The upcoming days will be a test of the strength and resilience of Turkey’s democracy, and the eyes of the world will be watching closely.