2018-04-25

Propaganda, slogans, prayers: how Erdogan intends to win the super-elections



Election race was set to begin in Turkey. A week ago, Turkish president confirmed the rumours about the early elections, which he himself and his ruling Justice and Development Party had been denying for several months. The presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 24, 2018 can rightfully be considered epochal: after the constitutional referendum held in April 2017, the country should transit to a super-presidential form of government this summer, and Erdogan will have the opportunity to rule Turkey for at least another 10 years, either further splitting Turkish society or delivering long-sought stability. The stakes are high for the president himself and his party, both intend to win elections by all means.

Formally, as a reason for the decision to postpone elections from November 3, 2019 to June 24, 2018 the Turkish authorities name political instability in the region, especially in the neighbouring Syria. In addition, according to statements of representatives of the ruling party, early elections would reduce uncertainty that is detrimental to the investment climate in Turkey, and the very transfer of elections to an earlier date would enable parties to spend less on populist gestures, so common in Turkey. Finally, Erdogan talked about the need to speed up the redrawing of the country's bureaucracy, liquidate the post of prime minister and transfer all the reins of the executive power into hands of the head of state.

On the informal level, some say that decision to call early elections was dictated not so much to reduce the negative consequences for economy during the critical period of transition, but rather out of fears of Erdogan about his own chances of winning and consolidating power. Erdogan himself isn’t not threatened to re-occupy the presidency for the next 10 years, the president remains one of the country's most popular politicians in the last 90 years of the republic's existence. It is the fate of his party that causes concerns: with a real political alternative on the horizon, capable of stealing from Erdogan's party its target electorate - conservative and nationalist Turks, electoral race promises to be tough.

A Good Party (İyi Parti), founded in October 2017 by a number of former prominent members of the National Movement Party (MHP) headed by the charismatic Meral Akşener, immediately attracted attention of the conservative sections of Turkish society, who have been long somehow dissatisfied with the current policy of the ruling Justice and Development party. Not everyone likes Erdogan's political ambitions and how he suppresses dissent voices even within his own party. The successful image of the Good Party also affects the very good results of polls: leader of the party Akşener, who has already also announced her candidacy in the presidential race, said to have claims on up to 40% of the votes in the first round, while the party itself has a chance of 20% of the votes of Turkish voters.

Like Turkey’s main opposition People's Republican Party (CHP), the Good Party, in case of victory, promises to return Turkey to the parliamentary form of government, as the founder of the republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk bequeathed. This can be regarded as a direct challenge to Erdogan's plans and ambitions, so he wants to put pressure on his rivals by transferring the elections to the nearest date because in such scenario a short period of preparation would not allow the Good Party to consolidate its organizational resources on the ground before the elections.

The society has accumulated fatigue from unbalanced policy of the Turkish authorities led by Erdogan. Particularly unhappy is the absence of any thoughtful and stable foreign policy. Obviously, Turkey is moving now on the international arena, especially in the Syrian issue, according to the political conjuncture, cooperating at times with Russia, at times with the US. Naturally, Turkish society is getting more confused. However, the most important issue for Turks is traditionally the situation in the national economy. Since January, the national currency of the country has lost about 7% of its value against the US dollar, unemployment remains high at 10-12%, higher rates among young people and recent graduates. Finally, as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development expects, Turkey's economic growth will decline in 2018 from 7.4% to 4.2%.

It is worth saying that the pressure of economic and political problems on the Turkish authorities is pushing it towards a more aggressive election campaign. Erdogan and his party, based on their experience of past campaigns, are ready to use several scenarios.

First, the authorities will try to foment conflict with the West, as was done during last year's referendum campaign. To consolidate the electorate around a supposedly strong leader, Turkish authorities this year may risk escalating the conflict around a number of islands in the Aegean Sea with Greece. In 1996, such a conflict nearly led to a military conflict between Athens and Ankara, but now this unresolved conflict would be an ideal issue for the Turkish authorities wishing to create an environment among the voters that the entire Western world has taken up arms against Turkey: after all, Greece is a member of the EU and has historically close ties with the West.

As it was in the past elections, Turkish authorities will use religious propaganda as well. It is worth mentioning that from May 15 to June 14 in Turkey, the majority of the population will fast during the holy month of Ramadan, from June 15 begins the Ramazan Bayrami holiday. Throughout the month, official religious figures of the state will call upon TV viewers, radio listeners and mosque goers in a veiled form to cast their vote to the ruling party and its leader Erdogan "who has done so much for the Muslims of Turkey and the world."

All these steps will be supported by mass propaganda in the media, 90% of which are controlled by people more or less loyal to the president. The opposition will not have a sufficient platform for broadcasting: as noted by independent observers, the share of air time allocation in favour of the ruling party traditionally surpasses shares allocated to other parties. Even now one can see with unaided eyes who major TV channels show daily in their broadcast…

Looking from a broader perspective, it is clear that Turkey’s problem is not whether there is a democracy or rather a democratic process. There is one: people are included in the electoral process and major obstacles like discrimination based on ideological or religious views or ethnic background are long gone. The major problem of today’s Turkey is quality of democratic process with competing parties enjoying equal and just share of opportunities to win votes and deliver their programs and with the government officials serving not the party they hail from, but the Turkish nation, securing free and transparent process of elections.

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