Elections in Turkey: would Erdogan accept defeat or is there a new Trump to fear?

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during the campaign closure in Ankara, the Turkish capital. There he questioned the delivery of power in case he won the opposition. (REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan) (CAGLA GURDOGAN/)

Recep Tayyip Erdogan It has dominated the Turkish political scene for two decades, increasing its power with each election. This Sunday, with one of the closest elections since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk created modern Türkiye in 1923, all that can change. But first, we are going to see a titanic struggle by this 69-year-old political animal to remain in power for life. Most polls give a slight lead to the opposition leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, backed by an alliance of six parties ranging from the center left to the more conservative right. But the question that remains in the air is if Erdogan is willing to hand over power in the event of being defeated or if he is able to call his followers to storm the government as they did donald trump and Jair Bolsonaro.

Judging by his last campaign speech, he’s going to put up a fight. “My nation will not hand over this country to someone to become president with the support of Kandil,” said the Islamist president at a political rally, referring to the alleged support that Kiliçdaroglu would receive from the PKK, the Kurdish militia which has been in the armed struggle for the liberation of Kurdistan for almost four decades and which has its epicenter in the Kandil mountain range. Although the Democratic Party of the Peoples (HDP, for its acronym in Turkish), the main Kurdish party, supports the six-party coalition led by Kiliçdaroglu, the PKK has never spoken on the matter and, in general, rejects these elections.

The Minister of the Interior and strong man of the government, suleiman soyludirectly accused the West of being behind an alleged “coup d’état”. “When all the methods they tried in the past failed, they said that they can only control Turkey that way… May 14 is a coup attempt”Soylu said.

The candidate of the opposition alliance, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, during the closing ceremony of the campaign in Bursa, Turkey.  (REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
The candidate of the opposition alliance, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, during the closing ceremony of the campaign in Bursa, Turkey. (REUTERS/Murad Sezer) (MURAD SEZER/)

“If the opposition wins resoundingly, it will be very difficult for the government to manipulate the result or ignore it. The danger is in the event that there is a difference of just 1% or 2%, there everything can happenr”, explains Senem Aydin-Düzgit analyst and professor Sabanci University from Istanbul. Erdogan has all the powers to put pressure on the Electoral Board so that it orders a rerun of the elections or makes the security forces it controls intervene. There is a precedent in this regard when Erdogan achieved a repeat of the Istanbul mayoral elections after the defeat of his candidate by a few thousand votes. Of course, the maneuver did not give him good results at that time. The opposition candidate Ekrem Imamogluachieved a greater number of votes and became his most charismatic and dangerous rival.

Erdogan won five parliamentary elections, two presidential ones, and three referendums. He also foiled an attempted military coup. But this time is different. The economy is in recession official inflation is 64% per year and independent calculations put it above 137%the lira lost half its value against the euro in two years and per capita income fell from $11,300 to $9,600. The earthquake of February 7 that left 55,000 dead exposed state corruption in the delivery of construction permits and the lack of infrastructure to help victims. Most of the victims continue to live in tents or other precarious constructions. And there is a social weariness in the face of the violations against individual liberties that have increased over time since Erdogan came to power.

It is the first time that the opposition manages to join an election. And 72 hours before the elections, another marginal candidate, Muharrem İnce, was lowered after some compromising audios appeared on social networks and their votes would be added to the opponents. With this new situation, the latest polls indicate that Kilicdaroglu’s Millet İttifakı (Alliance of the Nation) would reach 50% of the vote and could win in the first round.

Tayyip Erdogan has the support of a fanatical mass that has benefited from the economic growth of the first years of his two-decade rule and does not want to lose its privileges.  (REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan)
Tayyip Erdogan has the support of a fanatical mass that has benefited from the economic growth of the first years of his two-decade rule and does not want to lose its privileges. (REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan) (CAGLA GURDOGAN/)

The fundamental question is how the strong man will respond if he feels that his power is seriously threatened. Erdogan has displayed increasingly autocratic tendencies over the past decade, centralizing power around the all-powerful presidential system he adopted after the 2017 constitutional referendum. is using all the resources of the State to reinforce his political campaign. The media are muzzled. And the state of emergency is still in force in 10 provinces affected by the earthquake, which will lift just a few hours before the queues to vote begin. Selahattin Demirtaşformer co-leader of Peoples Democratic Party (HDP)with a Kurdish majority and a third political formation, has been in prison since 2016. There are serious doubts about the independence of the Superior Electoral Board.

how they write Şebnem Arsu, Maximilian Popp and Özlem Topçu in an article by Der Spiegel, “in the centenary of its existence, the Turkish Republic stands at a crossroads. If Erdoğan is re-elected for another term, observers fear that can transform the country into a dictatorship, declare himself ruler for life and abolish elections. However, an opposition victory does not guarantee that this would necessarily lead Turkey on a new path. Without a doubt, Kılıçdaroğlu has promised to revive democracy and the rule of law in the country. But it is unclear if Erdoğan would accept defeat, or if he would try to emulate Donald Trump in 2021 and would incite his followers to rise up in protest.”

In an editorial, the Financial Times raises a similar concern. In his particular style, the British financial daily says that “in a deeply polarized nation, Erdoğan is arguably Turkey’s most popular politician, with strong support among his conservative base. This, coupled with the unequal electoral conditions, means that it would be unwise to ensure his defeat. But if you lose, you should accept the results. Turkey’s proud democratic history is at stake”.

Buildings destroyed by the earthquake in Samandag, in southern Turkey, which were built by companies close to Erdogan's power in areas affected by earthquake faults.  (AP/Emrah Gurel)
Buildings destroyed by the earthquake in Samandag, in southern Turkey, which were built by companies close to Erdogan’s power in areas affected by earthquake faults. (AP/Emrah Gurel) (Emrah Gurel/)

The fear of the opposition is that Erdogan will be pressured by the groups (some speak of mafias) that he benefited and maintain him in power. First of all, the big construction companies represented by five big oligarchs who win all the bids. These companies often work on the edge of the law. Are the main accused of having built buildings in seismic zones and of being responsible for thousands of deaths in the last earthquake. There are also the garbage collection and cleaning companies in the big cities. One of Erdoğan’s first actions when he was elected mayor of Istanbul in 1994, at the beginning of his political career, was to fire unionized municipal workers and hire private companies, which employed marginals to provide municipal services. “Let’s say he killed two birds with one stone,” explains Berk Esen, a professor of Political Science at Istanbul Sabancı University. “That company is owned by a conservative person affiliated with the Party who gives work to the poorest, even if he pays them very little and they do not have any labor rights, but both they will end up voting for Erdogan and putting money into his campaign”.

Now, those who adored him then for his appearance as a tall, charismatic man who made fiery speeches and walked like a “kabadayı”a street fighter, have already climbed several rungs in society and they do not want to lose their privileges in any way. They are the first to come to defend him tooth and nail if Erdogan plays the dangerous victim card.

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