Presidential election in Türkiye: how Recep Tayyip Erdoğan thwarted the odds

For many analysts and observers, including the Turks, this was self-evident: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was going to pay the electoral bill for the dizzying inflation that Turkey is experiencing (72.3% in 2022) and the double earthquake of February 6 (more than 50,000 dead and 3.5 million homeless people). After all, wasn’t he responsible for it?

In fact, in fact: its heterodox economic policy low interest rates despite inflation, and its construction policy, clientelist and corrupt, leaving the door open to crooked builders who did not comply with anti-seismic standards – not to mentionfaulty rescue management. And yet, with 49.4% of the votes facing his rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu at the end of a first round marked by a high turnout, between 84% and 86% according to the High Electoral Committee, here he is the favorite and almost assured of his victory in the second round of the presidential election.

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A (very) unfair campaign

Admittedly, the campaign, all to its advantage, was not fair. Opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu rarely appeared on TV channelswhile Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was omnipresent there.

With 90% of the media in his handthe candidate Erdoğan also did not hesitate to produce crude montages, including one, broadcast during its meeting on May 7 in Istanbul and on television, which shows his opponent alongside Murat Karayılan, military leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Kurdish autonomist formation, registered on the list of terrorist organizations in Europe and the United States. Enough to put off his base, including anti-PKK Kurds.

The Turkish president also placed the ten provinces affected by the earthquake under state of emergency until May 8, which means that he deprived them of the latitude of expression and demonstration that an electoral campaign induces. Finally, there was no lack of irregularities: concerning the registration of earthquake refugees on the electoral liststhe fact that ministers stand for deputies without resigning, and that Erdoğan himself is seeking a third term, while the 2017 constitutional reform prohibits more than two, to name but a few examples.

These elements, like the new electoral lawmust have played in his favor and could partly explain his score, although almost all the polls predicted Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in first position, sometimes up to five points ahead.

Because with 49.4% of the votes against 45% for Kılıçdaroğlu, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan therefore wins – while doing a lower score than in 2018 and being forced into a second round. Although also down compared to the number of seats won in 2018, its Justice and Development Party (AKP, Islamo-nationalist) and its ultra-nationalist and Islamist allies – mainly the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), who did better than expected–, are also in the majority in Parliamentwith 325 deputies out of 600 seats.

The choice of autocracy?

But there are two other explanations for this unexpected score, which contradicts the seismic and economic arguments, and heckles the analyzes evoking a possible victory for the opposition. First, a certain fatalism of the working classes: the earthquake is fate, if it is written, nothing can be done about it – a narrative used by Erdoğan in his campaign.

Second explanation: the man flatters the nationalism at the foundation of Turkish society. The Islamo-nationalist president gave a new pride to many Turks by imposing their country on the international scene, by projecting 50,000 of his soldiers on ten different terrains, by developing an increasingly independent and exporting defense industryby standing up to Europe in a transactional way, for example.

The candidate also scored points by titillating the identity fiber of his conservative Muslim voters and their anti-LGBT family values, which are very different from those of this degenerate West against which President Erdoğan has accentuated the polarization during the last decade.

Anger, the desperation of empty fridges, in other words, is not enough to make an election in Turkey. Some of those who like sports comparisons liken the functioning of the core of 30% to 40% of voters loyal to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to that of a football team: whether it loses or wins, we support it at any price, under any condition. After all, hasn’t the current Turkish president cherished the prospect of a football career in her youth?

Finally, there is a last explanation, less psychologizing. It does not exclude the others, but places them in this current general dynamic which sees societies opting for nationalist withdrawal, stability and supposed security, at the cost of autocracy, rather than opting for democratization and social progress. As will probably be confirmed during the second presidential run-off on May 28, which should ratify the victory of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

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