September 29, 2023

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If Erdogan wins, today’s opposition could end up in jail in a few years

  • Recep Tayyip Erdoğan successfully mobilized and polarized Turkish society, while the opposition did not want a positive campaign – political analyst Edgar Schar assesses the first round of Turkish elections for Telex.
  • According to him, it is unpredictable who the voters of the third candidate eliminated in Sunday’s second round will choose, but the question is how much Erdogan will win.
  • If he wins, he will become tougher and Turkey will become an outright autocracy, no longer just Kurdish politicians but also members of the leftist opposition CHP.

Turkish political analyst Edgar Schar closely watched last year’s Hungarian elections, and his area of ​​research is anti-authoritarian structures such as anti-politicization in Turkey and Hungary. The co-founder of the Istanbul Political Research Institute spoke to us once before the Turkish elections on May 14, when he talked about the similarities and differences between the Turkish and Hungarian protests.

Now we’ve asked for another interview to collectively explain the results of the first round of the presidential election and the prospects for Sunday’s decisive second round.

What happened in the first round?

Before the first round on May 14, the majority of active pollsters predicted a victory for opposition party Kemal Kilidaroglu, with the most accurate ORC giving him a seven percentage point advantage in the last two elections. In the election, the opposite happened: Erdogan came out on top with 49.51 percent, Kilidaroslu got 44.88 percent, and nationalist candidate Sinan Ogun got 5.1 percent of the vote. The President’s alliance won the majority in the parliamentary elections. The May 14 results are analyzed in more detail here.

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According to Edgar Şar, even pollsters debate how they could be wrong, and one of the most obvious solutions is that Erdogan mobilized his supporters better during the campaign and was able to appeal to the undecided. Before the election most people expected a turnout of more than 90 percent, more than 95 percent, but instead “only” 87 percent voted, one percentage point higher than the 86 percent turnout of five. years ago. Hence, it was not successful in attracting new voters.

Edgar Şar – Photo: János Bődey / Telex

According to Şar, it is worth highlighting the difference between the two campaigns: Kılıçdaroğlu ran a positive campaign until the first round that talked about the country they want to build, while Erdogan ran a negative campaign focused on opposition. In results, the latter performed better. Erdoğan has not shied away from hard-line tactics in campaigning, so he has regularly called opposition politicians terrorists and disparaged them by repeating deeply fake videos and lies.

According to Şar, Erdogan’s good result in the first round also contributed to his forming a good coalition. His own party, the Justice and Development Party (AKP), achieved its worst result in the election in two decades (35 percent), but their religio-nationalist far-right allies received a total of 14 percent, so the majority of exit voters sided with Erdogan and did not migrate to the opposition.

Swelling? Come!

One of the most important lessons of the election was a misunderstanding of the economic situation: many previously thought that some of the former voters might turn against Erdoğan, due to the real reason for last year’s 85 percent and still very high inflation. Wages are deteriorating. It didn’t happen: the president received only three percentage points fewer votes than he had five years ago.

According to Şar, deteriorating real wages did not bother people much, and many feared that jobs would disappear with traditional monetary policy during the opposition’s victory. Unlike when Erdogan’s party lost the leadership of Istanbul and Ankara in 2019, unemployment was now much lower.

People wait to vote at a polling station in Istanbul on May 14 in the first round of Turkish elections - Photo: János Bődey / Telex

People wait to vote at a polling station in Istanbul on May 14 in the first round of Turkish elections – Photo: János Bődey / Telex

What to expect in the second round?

The most important event after the first round, third candidate Sinan Ogun, called on his supporters to support Erdogan after a week of deliberations. Oğan was the candidate of the far-right, nationalist party coalition, but since he was the only alternative besides Erdogan and Kilıdaroğlu, some of those who voted for him may have been opposition voters. It’s hard to say who his voters will end up with, and according to Edgar Saar, a few more people will vote for Kılıçdaroğlu than Erdogan in the second round, but many may not go.

Another twist in the campaign between the two rounds was that the opposition, reversing its earlier positive campaign, began to attack Erdogan more harshly and to tap into the negative emotions of the public. Accordingly, Kılıçdaroğlu began to address the issues of nationalist voters and reaffirmed his earlier promise to send home the millions of refugees living in Turkey.

The campaign moved to make it a second round of a referendum on the Erdogan regime, hoping to win over voters who sympathize with the opposition but are dissatisfied with the government.

Erdogan, on the other hand, continued his campaign before the first round in which he called Kılıçdaroğlu pro-LGBTQ, a mercenary of America and a friend of Kurdish terrorists. He sought to increase his lead by promoting national pride, infrastructure investment, economic development and reconstruction of areas affected by the February earthquake.

What happens after the second round?

If the opposition’s Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu can reverse that and win the presidential election, Turkey will have a strange situation where the president will have to form a government against the pro-Erdoğan parliamentary majority. There has never been an example before, but the Turkish opposition always brings up the fact that both Istanbul and Ankara are led by opposition mayors, while the legislature has a pro-government majority.

However, Erdogan is more likely to win the second round, and the question is by how much.

According to Edgar Saar, if he wins, it will depend on whether he achieves a better or worse result than when he won the first round in 2018 with 52.6 percent. If you buy more than this now, you can rightly say that you have been given more power than before to carry out your plans in the next period.

Edgar Şar - Photo: János Bődey / Telex

Edgar Şar – Photo: János Bődey / Telex

Edgar Schar spoke to us for the first time before the first round of the presidential election, saying that if Erdogan wins the election, Turkey will go from an electoral autocracy to an open autocracy. Political scientists also study the process of change, but practice shows that electoral autocracies do not last long, he added. So at some point they may slide towards democracy or outright autocracy (Russia is a good example of the latter).

According to Şar, an important factor is that leaders usually go in the direction of autocracy when the country has economic problems, which is absolutely true for Turkey right now. Erdoğan responded to the economic and inflationary crisis by taking out loans and government spending, forcing him to go on a one-day fast. On the other hand, it should be noted that Turkey has been a democracy for a hundred years, with seventy years of free elections (with very short interruptions), so the democratic institutional structure is more resilient than in post-Soviet countries. Russia and Hungary.

Can Erdogan be tougher?

The question is what will happen if Erdogan hardens after a possible victory. The People’s Democratic Party (HDP), which represents the Kurds, already has 1,200 members in prison, including their former co-chair Selahattin Demirtas, who took office in 2016 and ran the 2018 election campaign from prison.

According to Şar, it is relatively easy for a section of the Turkish public to believe that Kurds are affiliated with the terrorist organization Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), so most Turks accept their imprisonment. However, with few exceptions, politicians from the left-wing CHP have never been jailed, a feat Erdoğan never overcame.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the dedication of a mosque in Istanbul on May 12 - Photo: János Bode / Telex

Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the dedication of a mosque in Istanbul on May 12 – Photo: János Bode / Telex

Now the question is whether he will do it if he wins the election. This year was the first time Kurds publicly supported a CHP presidential candidate, which is why Erdogan accused his opponents of terrorism throughout the campaign. Referring to this, he may even move towards their imprisonment.

According to Şar, it is still difficult to say whether this will be achieved and it may depend on what result Erdogan achieves in the second round. If he wins by a very large percentage, you can see that the time has come for a confrontation, and in a few years we will see the statistics of today’s resistance in prison.

Browse our articles on Turkish elections here. During the May 14 Turkish elections, Telex staff reported from Istanbul and Ankara. Over the weekend, our colleagues will also report on the second round of the presidential election on Sunday, May 28.