Why the election in Türkiye is the most important of the year

Polls indicate that Recep Erdogan could lose after 20 years in power to a broad and democratic opposition. It would be a profound change for the country after two decades under an autocratic Islamist regime. (REUTERS) (HANNAH MCKAY /)

The city of Adiyamanin southeastern Turkey, bore the Arabic name of hisnimansur until 1926. It was so difficult for Turks to pronounce that people referred to the city as “adi yaman”, ‘difficult name’. That is the official name that remained. It has always been a place of immigrants and in recent years, the city that grew the most in population in the country. The epicenter of the new middle class that benefited from the president’s reforms Recep Tayyip Erdogan. There the official Justice and Development Party (AKP) he obtained 67% of the vote in the 2018 election, the highest percentage in the entire country. Today Adiyaman is a ghost town destroyed by the earthquake on February 7 that left 55,000 dead nationwide. Most of those who remain there continue to live in tents. They lost everything. And they wonder: “devlet nerede” where is the state?

Kayseriin the center of anatolianthe old one Caesarean section, is another good example of the changes that took place in Turkey and that went from being a huge bastion of the ruling party to a doubtful vote due to the economic situation that exists there. Erdogan thoroughly reformed the country’s economy when he came to power in 2003, also investing in the country’s infrastructure and healthcare system. During his first decade in office, he managed to halve the difference between the prosperity of his country and the average of the OECD. Between 2003 and 2012, investors pumped $400 billion into Türkiye, more than 10 times than in the previous 20 years. The Turkish economy grew by up to 10% per year. Kayseri became a symbol of that rise. The city is considered the cradle of “Anatolian Tigers”, a group of conservative Muslim businessmen who grew rich under the leadership of the AKP. The city’s population tripled to 1.4 million inhabitants during these 20 years. Today, Kayseri is in a recession.

Inflation in Turkey is higher than in any other G-20 country except Argentina. According to him Turkish Statistical Institute (TUİK)was 64.27% in 2022, but the independent Inflation Research Group (ENAG), places it at more than double: 137.55%. Since 2021, the Turkish lira has lost half its value against the euro. Erdogan promised to make Turkey one of the 10 largest economies in the world by 2023. None of this happened. The country dropped from 17th to 19th place. Per capita income fell from $11,300 to $9,600, instead of increasing to $25,000, as the president predicted. The conservative middle class in the interior of the country created in these years no longer trusts official announcements. It has new aspirations that the regime cannot fulfill. And it is the one that now looks at the opposition.

Since 2021, the Turkish lira has lost half its value against the euro.  Inflation last year according to the Turkish Statistical Institute was 64.27%, but the independent Inflation Research Group places it at more than double: 137.55%.  (REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan)
Since 2021, the Turkish lira has lost half its value against the euro. Inflation last year according to the Turkish Statistical Institute was 64.27%, but the independent Inflation Research Group places it at more than double: 137.55%. (REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan) (CAGLA GURDOGAN/)

The third determining factor is cultural/generational and it can be clearly seen in istanbul, where young secularists permanently confront their liberal and pro-European attitude against the small ruling, conservative and religious elite. The new Türkiye was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 and continuously governed by the secular elite who despised the strictly religious rural population. Erdoğan arrived at the beginning of the century with the promise of breaking with that caste that he denounced as corrupt. He got devout Muslims more rights and more visibility. Veil bans on Turkish universities were lifted and a new conservative middle class developed in the heart of Anatolia. Social networks came to dampen the broth. Boys are becoming more and more cosmopolitan and want to be like their peers in a Europe that is just a stone’s throw away.

A study conducted by the company’s public opinion analysts KONDA, the most important in the country, showed that religious devotion is falling. Whereas 55% of survey participants described themselves as religious in 2008, that number had fallen to 51% 10 years later. And this trend is much stronger among the youngest. The generation gap could be decisive in these elections. Boys between the ages of 18 and 25 make up about 12% of the electorate, and a survey indicates that only 18% of them intend to vote for the AKP.

There is another element to take into account in this equation that is religious. This Sunday also confront two opposing visions of Islam. Opposition leader Kılıçdaroğlu is an Alevi, a minority in the Muslim world that is concentrated in the Kurdish areas of Turkey. The vast majority of the 85 million Turks are Sunni Muslims and around 20% are Alevis. Unlike Sunnis and Shiites, the Alevis they do not go to the mosque, they do not perform the haj (the pilgrimage to Mecca) and they do not fast during Ramadan. This discriminates against them within the more conservative Turkish society and many times they are attacked or lies are spread about their practices such as have incestuous relationships. Never before has an Alevi held any important public office. In general, the Alevis tend to ignore the issue and prefer to say that they are not religious. That is why it was surprising when, in the middle of the campaign, Kılıçdaroğlu sent a video on social networks talking about the subject. “Identity makes us what we are, and of course we must respect it,” says Kılıçdaroğlu. “We cannot choose our own heritage, we are born with it. But there are very important things in our lives that we can choose. Be a good person. To be honest. Be aware.” The video had 35 million views. and analysts believe it was more effective than any other advertisement.

This is the context in which this Sunday are held “the most important elections of the year in the world” as described by the prestigious magazine The Economist. Some elections in which Erdogan and his AKP face a coalition of six parties ranging from the center-left to the hardest right, forming a national Alliance or “the table of six” as the press dubbed them. And they named as a candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu74, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP, for its acronym in Turkish), Secular, Social Democratic and Kemalist. The polls show an advantage in favor of Kilicdaroglu that would have been accentuating in recent days. Anyway, Everything indicates that neither of the two candidates will obtain a decisive advantage and they will have to go to a second round on May 28.

Two men in front of destroyed property after the earthquake in Antioquia on February 7 that left 55,000 dead.  The earthquake exposed the failures of the State (REUTERS / Eloisa López)
Two men in front of destroyed property after the earthquake in Antioquia on February 7 that left 55,000 dead. The earthquake exposed the shortcomings of the State (REUTERS/Eloisa López) (ELOISA LOPEZ/)

The Millet İttifakı Kilicdaroglu’s (Alliance of the Nation) is above all a force of parties ranging from the center-left to the nationalist and Islamist right united with the aim of removing Erdoğan from power and return to a more parliamentary regime of government. Its main slogan is that of “restore democracy” in the country, a difficult objective since Erdogan was in charge in those 20 years of creating a hard network of Islamist conservatives in all levels of the State. After the purge that he carried out with the 2016 coup attempt and the permanent persecution of the Kurdish minority, he made sure to control any opposition beyond the institutional. Independent media were stifled by a lack of official resources and publicity. The judiciary, once a stronghold of the secular nationalist ruling class, is now the preserve of AKP supporters. He even remodeled the military command, which before was only loyal to Ataturk’s principles.

Regarding international politics, it is understood that the opposition Alliance would have a firmer approach towards its NATO and European Union allies and that it would move away from the close relationship that Erdogan has with Vladimir Putin’s Russia. However, Kilicdaroglu is likely to return to having a more oiled relationship with his neighbors in Syria and the dictator Bashar al-Assad. One of his first measures would be to normalize relations, although in the middle is the issue of the three million Syrian refugees from the civil war in their country and who remain within Turkish territory. Erdogan talks about repatriating them at any cost, we will have to see what the alliance would do.

And these elections have important ramifications in international relations. Turkey is a member of NATO and remains a hinge between East and West in the hottest area of ​​the planet right now. It has international legal authority over the straits that link the Black Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, through which supplies for Ukraine pass and part of the wheat it exports comes out. And we must not lose sight of what is three million Turkish immigrants in Germany that have a decisive influence on the politics of that country. Whether or not Erdogan remains in power in Ankara is not just a Turkish issue.

Keep reading:

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