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GLOBALIST | 22 JUNE, 2018

Turkey Polls: Many Want Erdogan Out but the Youth Hold the Key

Turkey Polls: Many Want Erdogan Out but the Youth Hold the Key


The Presidential and Parliamentary elections in Turkey are on. All Turkish citizens 18 years of age are eligible to vote but privates and corporals serving in the armed services, students in military schools, and convicts in penal institutions, excluding those convicted of negligent offences, cannot vote.

Turks living abroad began voting on June 7 while those resident in Turkey would vote on June 24. The Turkish Supreme Board of Election has permitted the elections to be monitored by eight international organisations, namely, The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean, Parliamentary Assembly of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, Parliamentary Assembly of Turkic Speaking Countries, Cooperation Council of Turkic Speaking States and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

The OSCE already received flak from Erdogan’s government for an interim report that it brought out on 15 June 2018 about the elections with the Turkish government claiming that the report included comments of a political nature that were not in consonance with the reality in the country. The interim report’s concerns regarding restrictions on freedom of assembly, association and expression, as well as the ongoing imprisonment of Selahattin Demirtaş the presidential candidate of the Peoples' Democratic Party's (HDP) had also angered Erdogan’s government.

Four opposition parties  have formed the "Fair Election Platform" to count, validate and announce the number of votes to the public on June 24 election day. NGOs, including labor unions DİSK and KESK, have also joined the platform. The platform’s spokesperson, Nesteren Davutoğlu, said during a press conference in Istanbul on June 21 that they have mobilized 415,000 ballot box committee members and 195,000 witnesses and volunteers, claiming they would guarantee that “99.9 percent of votes would be counted correctly” on election day.

While the past months had seen reports, based on conventional wisdom, suggesting that the AKP and Erdogan himself might emerge as the winners, and the President continues to be confident of such an outcome, there have been developments that suggest that it would not be smooth sailing for Erdogan and his party.

Polling firms have been predicting different outcomes. Mediar calculated President Tayyip Erdoğan’s first round performance at 43.5 percent, and A&G, calculated it at 55 percent. A survey by pollster SONAR predicted that there would be a run off for the post of President though Erdogan might win the second round. Brookings Institution said that social media has been alive with catchphrases that suggested impatience and fatigue with the AKP and Erdogan.

Polling firms reported that citizen’s were refusing to divulge their preferences to researchers. This was seen by Murat Gezici of the Gezici research company as presaging some kind of a ground swell which might influence the election outcome. His company’s poll showed that the AKP and its alliance partner the MHP would fall short of a majority in the 600-seat assembly, with 48.7 percent of the votes.

The rival alliance could get 38.9 percent of votes while the HDP’s share was put at 11.5 percent. If indeed Erdogan fails to win a majority in the first round, the decision of the opposition to field a united candidate for the second round could influence the outcome. The opposition alliance could also deny Mr. Erdogan’s party and its allies a majority in parliament.

President Erdogan is banking primarily on his credentials as a nationalist and his determination to ensure the annihilation of all terrorists(read Kurdistan Workers’ Party known as PKK) whether residing in Turkey or ensconced in neighbouring countries like Iraq and Syria. His belligerence vis a vis the USA and other western countries and his rejection of proposals that the Turkish army should operate in the territory of Turkish neighbours with their approval, is supposed to burnish his image as a strong leader deserving again to be the President of Turkey.

It is possibly not a coincidence that the start of the voting process on June 7 has meshed with the Turkish army undertaking a fresh onslaught against the Kurds and Turkish aircraft bombing sites in Iraq. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu said there was contact with Iran about conducting an operation against the PKK in Kandil close to the Iranian border.

But the changing vibes in Turkey appear to have reached him also. Once an adamant opposer of coalitions, Erdogan had said on May 4,2018 that the new system introduced through the referendum of 2017 would not allow the formation of coalitions. But now he has said that his AKP may seek to form a coalition if it fails to secure a parliamentary majority in the elections on June 24. The question is whether any party other than the MHP would like to ally with the AKP simply to ensure Erdogan's continued reign. 

The media often plays a critical role in shaping voter’s choices. Two opposition members of the television watchdog RTUK( Radio and Television Supreme Council) have said that Turkey’s main state-run TV station devoted 67 hours of airtime to President Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP last month in the run-up to elections while his main presidential rival, Muharrem Ince, got less than seven hours.

The extensive control over the media that Erdogan’s government has ensured, has forced Turks seeking an alternative to look to broadcasters like Medyascope founded in 2015 by leading Turkish journalist Rusen Cakir, which does not broadcast through satellite or terrestrial TV, but via new media like Facebook, YouTube and Periscope and presents hours of live debate from voices across the political spectrum enjoying a freedom absent from the major news channels in Turkey. Top Turkish journalists have amassed colossal numbers of social media followers who want a version of events other than that projected by the government. At the time of elections such outlets provide a voice to the opposition as also a point of view that can shape voter’s opinions.

There are two main alliances fighting the election. The People’s Alliance formed by the Justice and Development Party or AKP and the Nationalist Movement Party or MHP. and the opposition Nation Alliance which includes the Republican People’s Party or CHP, the nationalist Good Party or IYI, the Democrat Party or DP and the Islamist Felicity Party or Saadet.

These parties had objected to the Erdogan initiated 2017 referendum to change the constitution , saying it would harm the democratic process. The coming together of these parties has broadened their appeal even though the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party, or HDP, is not part of the coalition. The CHP candidate, Ince has made it a point to reach out to Turkey’s Kurds who some commentators believe could be the deciding factor if the HDP gets 10 seats and the AKP and its ally fail to gain a majority.

The campaign has been marked by a slanging and often personalized match between Erdogan and the opposition, including recourse to the courts. Both sides have been making promises to the electorate reflecting different visions about Turkey’s future. A key factor in these elections is the ability of the fractured opposition parties to come together in an alliance and agree to back a single presidential candidate in any second round against Mr. Erdogan.

In addition to battling terrorism Erdogan has promised to lift the emergency after the elections; provide broadened freedoms and rights, a stronger administrative system and a strong economy. He listed the infrastructural projects the AKP had implemented in its 16 years of rule.. But he has also made it clear that he would raise a ‘Pious Generation’ implying that there would be no halt to the Islamisation process. For instance in the case of education the number of religious schools increased from 450 schools 15 years ago to 4,500 nationwide now. Erdogan’s government increased the budget for religious education this year by 68 percent, to $1.5 billion.

His opposition to the Kurds remains firm and he recently criticized the decision of the Supreme Board of Elections approving the candidacy of the imprisoned HDP leader Selahattin Demirtaş dismissing the argument that Demirtas had not been convicted and was only imprisoned. Erdogan said the reason for the imprisonment is very important reiterating the accusation that Demirtas had incited deadly street protests in October 2014 and called for street protests after the June 7 election in 2015 in which 53 people died. Demirtaş has said there had been no criminal case filed against either him or any HDP officials regarding the incidents.

Erdogan’s frontal attacks have been against the CHP and its presidential candidate Ince. Erdogan called on voters not to allow terrorists to take control of Turkey maintaining that the CHP supported the Kurdish terrorists and was out to destroy all that the AKP government had achieved. He referred to İnce’s meeting candidate Selahattin Demirtaş in prison.

Erdogan turned down Ince’s challenge to join in a live debate calling the CHP Presidential candidate shameless and not a suitable person to talk to as he was critical of the mega projects undertaken by the Erdogan administration. Erdogan had also filed a criminal complaint against İnce because the latter had said that Erdogan visited Fethullah Gülen before forming the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdoğan’s lawyer filed a lawsuit against İnce for “insulting the president,” demanding non-pecuniary damages worth 100,000 Turkish Liras.

Erdogan has also accused dark foreign powers of trying to “manipulate” the Turkish economy by “playing on currencies,” He vowed to “settle the score” with them after the June 24 elections. 

The Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has promised to write a “civilian constitution” through consultations with all segments of the society if the party wins the June 24 parliamentary elections. He told a rally that workers; employers; non-governmental organizations; universities and professional organizations, all segments of the society, should come together to prepare an essential and a new short constitution.

He also criticized the AKP’s candidate list for including a number of lawmakers who had visited Fethullah Gülen in the USA, commenting that it showed the inconsistency of the AKP in its fight against the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization. The CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has also promised that if the party comes to power all academics who had been sacked by Erdogan in the aftermath of the aborted coup in 2016 would return to their universities.

The CHP Presidential candidate Muharrem Ince has said that if elected President he would seek to improve relations with the West. He would visit all European capitals in order to repair relations with the European Union which had become increasingly strained because of insults and belligerence from Erdogan.

On the issue of education, in contrast to Erdogan, İnce, the presidential has pledged to end compulsory religious courses and continue to offer elective religious courses in public schools. The Alevi community in Turkey has been fighting against the compulsory religious courses for years, arguing that the “Religious Culture and Morals” classes only benefit the country’s Sunni majority. He has promised to build factories and create employment.

CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu sued Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu, demanding compensation from Soylu for accusing Kılıçdaroğlu of illegally acquiring revenue through CHP municipalities. Muharrem İnce filed a criminal complaint against President Erdoğan after the latter accused the CHP candidate of taking instructions from Pennsylvania-based cleric Fethullah Gülen.

İYİ (Good Party) leader and presidential candidate Meral Akşener has said that the party will lift the state of emergency and renew media in Turkey and that they wanted to privatize the Turkish Radio and Television Organization. She also promised to lower the election threshold from 10 percent to 5 percent. Aksener, a former Interior Minister under Erdogan, said that there was no question of an alliance with Erdogan’s AKP claiming that AKP officials had offered her a position in the cabinet but she turned it down.

Akşener said the İYİ Party’s grassroots members were uncomfortable with rumors of any possible support to the AKP and the MHP. She said she would reveal the “political wing” of the Gülen network, the group believed to have been behind the July 2016 coup attempt.

On Foreign Policy she said that her first action will be to fix relations with Syria. She also promised to send 4 million Syrian refugees residing in Turkey to Syria stating that Turkey needs to channel the $36 billion dollars spent on refugees on domestic economic development instead. Her statement coincided with Prime Minister Binali Yıldırımsaying 30000 Syrians had obtained Turkish nationality and were eligible to vote. The İYİ Party will reassess ties with the European Union and accelerate negotiations for accession talks. On easing the economic plight of the Turks Aksener said her government would give 500 liras to every unemployed young citizen in Turkey and a 1,500 lira bonus to retired citizens on every religious holiday. She also said she would put an end to the expensive perquisites like cars enjoyed by state employees.

The Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has found its campaign hamstrung by a crackdown that led to 11 of its MPs losing parliamentary status and a similar number jailed on terrorism charges. Dozens of HDP affiliated mayors had been arrested as well as thousands of party members. Though a Turkish court rejected an appeal for the release of (HDP) former leader and presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtaş, he had taken recourse to messages recorded on his wife’s phone.

The HDP produced a slick video of the phone message, which begins with Demirtaş’s wife Basak welcoming family members to their home in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır. Her mobile then rings and she puts it on loudspeaker. Demirtaş describes himself as a “political hostage” but also urges optimism among the HDP faithful in effect holding a campaign rally from jail in the northeastern province of Edirne. Demirtas was given a spot to make a campaign speech on state-run broadcaster TRT on June 17 from his jail cell. He called for “national reconciliation” based on shared historical values. Reports said that his speech was watched on big screens in Istanbul at a HDP rally with thousands cheering him.

HDP voters could be the uncertain factor that could decide whether Erdogan wins the presidential vote, which requires a simple majority and which polls suggest could go to a second round.

What will the elections throw up for Turkey?

It is likely that many of Turkey’s neighbours, whose borders Erdogan has disrespected, and many western nations who have borne the brunt of Erdogan’s offensive comments, would like to see an end to his rule. The long spell of Erdogan’s rule has seen a new generation coming of age to vote. Their turnout and their vision of their tomorrows could colour the outcome of the elections. Would they want to live under an increasingly autocratic system with diminishing individual freedoms and rights?

Or would they be inclined to shed the old and tried in favour of an alternative that could usher in an era of more individual liberties, better economic opportunities; and better relations with the rest of the world? Expatriate Turks have already been to the polls in many countries and a report by the head of the High Election Board, Sadi Guven, indicates that the number of Turks voting rose to a record level of 1.49 million. But which way the people and the country will move will only be known in the next few days.

(Also read: http://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/6/13955/Erdogans-Quest-For-Absolute-Unquestioned-Power​ )

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