Turkey Elections: Why Erdogan Just Missed the majority despite the Crisis

High inflation, poor crisis management after the earthquake, and restricted freedom of expression – why Erdogan, despite the crisis, only just missed the majority in the presidential elections with 49.5 percent.

High inflation and unemployment, merciless repression of critics, poor crisis management after the earthquake, and a deeply divided society – Turkey is actually in a massive crisis. Responsible for this is the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for more than 20 years and has ruled the country with his presidential system de facto alone for years.

Apparently, none of these problems can bother him. The 69-year-old did better than expected in the election for the presidency. With 49.5 percent of the vote, he was only 0.6 percent short of overcoming the 50 percent mark and winning the first ballot.

Erdogan is almost five percentage points ahead of his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu from the opposition’s strongest electoral alliance. The runoff election will take place in two weeks. And in the upcoming second round, President Erdogan has a better chance than his challenger.

ahead of the opposition

For political scientist Emre Erdogan from Bilgi University, the AKP and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan have lost votes. Despite the pandemic, economic crisis, and earthquake, the President is still ahead. He just missed the 50 percent mark, but his electoral alliance, the People’s Alliance, also has a ten percent lead over the opposition with 49.5 percent, according to a scientist from Istanbul.

Erdogan’s biggest ally, the ultra-nationalist MHP, which was almost declared dead, had a share of the vote of more than ten percent. “You can’t ignore that,” said political scientist Emre Erdogan in an interview with DW.

According to preliminary final results, the government alliance has retained its majority in parliament with 322 seats out of 600. The opposition alliance, which consists of six very different parties, won 213 seats.

The third strongest force in parliament, the pro-Kurdish HDP, which led the “Alliance for Work and Freedom” in these elections, also recorded losses. She will only send 61 deputies to the future National Assembly.

Polling institutes were wrong

Most polls pointed to a victory for the opposition. After that, opposition leader Kilicdaroglu came out on top. Now the preliminary official results show that everyone was wrong.

Even in the earthquake zone, the AKP won hands down. In Kahramanmaras, the epicenter of the devastating major earthquakes of February 6, President Erdogan won 71.9 percent of the vote. This means a loss of only 2.3 percent.

Under these circumstances, are Erdogan and his alliance the absolute winner? Not for Beate Apelt, head of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom in Istanbul. Apelt recalls that it has never been so close for Erdogan in any election, and he has never had to face a runoff.

For her, the winner is the large part of society that has expressed the desire for a different policy, more freedom and democracy. In addition, the opposition managed to campaign together across a very large political spectrum.

And the election campaign was anything but fair. Apelt points out that around 90 percent of the media is loyal to the government and large parts of the population are simply exposed to the worldview of the ruling alliance. Another reason is certainly the numerous election gifts that President Erdogan has distributed in recent months, such as the increased minimum wage, better salaries in the public sector and early retirement. According to Apelt, people are grateful for such facilitation and show it at the ballot box.

Strategic choice gifts

The political scientist Prof. Emre Erdogan also shares this assessment. In his view, the Turkish president’s election gifts played an important role. Because if the Turkish President promises free natural gas for a month, given the poor economic situation, nobody thinks about whether it could be bad for the national debt in the medium term, according to the expert.

In addition, voters in Turkey are traditionally driven by party politics. They would view problems or undesirable developments through ideological glasses. Because they live in their own bubble and consume pro-government media, the opposing side hardly manages to get on their radar, according to political scientist Emre Erdogan.

Religion also plays a further role, especially when it is used to polarize society, as was the case with this election campaign. The Turkish Minister of Justice, Bekir Bozdag, described the elections as one for voting between believers and non-believers.

What recommendation do ultranationalists give?

In addition, the ruling AKP party used the entire state apparatus for the election campaign. Almost all ministers were also on the move across the country to promote the government alliance, because they too were candidates for parliament. There was no sign of separation from office and mandate. Erdogan himself opened a new major state project every week and announced new discoveries just before the elections, such as the discovery of oil reserves in the east.

Apparently, that didn’t bother a large part of the voters. Almost half voted for Erdogan. In the next two weeks, both sides will try to mobilize their voters again.

Another decisive factor in the runoff will be how the electorate of the third-placed presidential candidate, Sinan Ogan, behaves. If Ogan from the ultra-nationalist and right-wing populist ATA Alliance makes an election recommendation, it is uncertain whether his electorate will follow him. Ideologically, Ogan has more ties to the government camp.

Kilicdaroglu wants a turnaround in refugee policy

Since the presidential system prevails in Turkey and the president also heads the government, the future of the country now depends on the runoff election in two weeks. If Erdogan is re-elected, Beate Apelt from the Friedrich Naumann Foundation does not expect any major changes. The Turkish President will continue to be a difficult partner. A partner who does not structure external relations on the basis of values ​​and only partially on the basis of agreed rules, but primarily according to their own interests, says Apelt.

The EU and NATO will have to deal with this actively, says Apelt, because there are a large number of mutual dependencies and problems that need to be solved together. However, Turkey is in an extremely difficult economic situation, which is likely to worsen after this election outcome, adds Apelt.

In their opinion, this could strengthen the position of the EU. It could well be possible that issues such as Sweden’s NATO accession can also be resolved in the near future with President Erdogan, Apelt continued.

The scientist Murat Erdogan from Ankara University is also assuming Erdogan’s victory in the runoff election given the current situation. But if his rival Kilicdaroglu wins the elections, he expects a new policy towards the EU. He reminds me of Kilicdaroglu’s election promises about visa-free travel to the EU and the refugee pact. Kilicdaroglu had announced that he would review the refugee agreement and, if necessary, renegotiate it.

The migration researcher adds that Kilicdaroglu also wants to readjust refugee policy. He promises to send all Syrians – Syrians mean all refugees – home in two years at the latest. The runoff election on May 28 will show whether these changes in foreign policy will materialize.

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