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BUDAPEST-SIZED RALLY: Turkish campaign nearing its end, will there be a second round?

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török választás / Turkish presidential elections
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Only a few days remain until the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections, which will take place on May 14th. According to influential pollsters, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who is supported by a six-party coalition and a significant portion of the Kurdish population, holds a three to five percentage point lead over the incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. If this situation does not change, history will be made this Sunday, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, as Erdoğan’s 20-year rule may come to an end, even if his party remains the largest in the Turkish parliament, albeit without a majority.

A rally the size of Budapest

The election will undoubtedly be closely contested, as the president is doing everything in his power to make up for his slight deficit. He is trying to mobilize his traditional voter base, the religious and conservative masses of Anatolia, but in the current economic situation with record-breaking inflation, this may not be enough.

While months of handouts (minimum wage increases, gifts to the public, free gas, and a recent salary increase for government employees) have measurably boosted the president’s support and may bring surprises on the last day, the campaign is also in full swing, highlighting the ruling party’s successes: they claim to have given and opened everything.

In Turkish public discourse, it is often said that the president is trying to pull a “rabbit out of a hat” like a good magician to impress the public.

In early April, the TCG Anadolu, the state’s first “drone carrier,” was handed over, equipped with domestic TB3 drones, since the US had removed Turkey from the F-35 fighter jet project. The 231-meter-long warship is currently anchored in Istanbul and can be visited by the public during the day – the long lines indicate that there is plenty of interest from the population in Turkey’s current pride in the defense industry.

But the list of defense industry achievements is long: the domestically developed “Altay tank” was also introduced, and the Teknofest, an exhibition showcasing the defense industry’s pride and joy, was held with great attendance.

There were plenty of energy successes too: the extraction of black sea gas fields, which were discovered a few years ago, has started, and the first block of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, built with Russian cooperation, was handed over, which even Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, acknowledged.

Putin’s announcement lends even more weight to Erdogan, as no matter how we look at it, a leader of a nuclear power and one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council is greeting him – but the big foreign policy successes were missing, this campaign was clearly about domestic politics and economic prospects.

The government’s efforts to reach an agreement with Syrian President Assad in the final weeks, which would have helped the already hot issue of Syrian refugees settling back home, have come to nothing.

There is still much to communicate, of course. The fundamentally pro-government media is loud about successes, infrastructure investments, and government promises. All of this is framed by large rallies, such as the epic enumeration of the government’s weekend rally in Istanbul with 1.7 million participants according to the government media.

Kılıçdaroğlu nincs egyedül

On the other hand, the opposition is campaigning less loudly but no less intensively. Compared to Kılıçdaroğlu‘s opponent, he strikes a less divisive, conciliatory tone and seeks to avoid government-sponsored character assassination attempts – mainly accusing him of collusion with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), if secular Kurds will give him their votes.

The opposition’s vision is to dismantle the presidential system and establish a strengthened parliamentary system, creating a more democratic state – where the situation for the Kurds can improve, at least in the hope of gaining the votes of the Kurdish communities living in southeastern Turkey and in the western part of the country.


Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu bízik a győzelemben (Forrás: Twitter, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu)

Moreover, Kılıçdaroğlu is not alone against Erdoğan, as the two popular mayors of Ankara and Istanbul, Mansur Yavaş and Ekrem İmamoğlu, respectively, are also campaigning for him. In recent days, İmamoğlu’s events have been disrupted, and his bus was pelted with stones in Erzurum, eastern Turkey (governed by the AKP). However, these actions may ultimately favor the opposition.

In contrast, as usual, Erdoğan is trying to mobilize his voter base alone. In the physically demanding campaign, he had to take a break for a few days – he had to interrupt a television interview at the end of April due to illness, and he had to cancel his daily tour of Central Turkey (Sivas, Yozgat, Tokat) the next day.

Yet, the 69-year-old Turkish president is facing the most intense election in decades. Until today, it seemed that there would be a high chance of a second round in the presidential election: however, one of the two other presidential candidates with 5-6% support, Muharrem İnce, withdrew, and the majority of his voters are likely to give their votes to the opposition candidate. Therefore, it may be possible that Kılıçdaroğlu will win more than 50% of the votes in the first round.

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