The incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdoganyesterday launched a final appeal to his constituents to go en masse to the polls today, presidential ballot day in Türkiye, calling for “a big win”. In a tweet, Erdogan challenges the opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdarogluhe urged to “start Turkey’s century with our votes”.
According to reports from the Anadolu agency, the polling stations will remain open from 8 to 17. There are over 60 million potential voters, while the Supreme Electoral Council has reported that almost 1.9 million Turks have already voted abroad.
ERDOGAN AT THE SHOW OF ACCOUNTS
A tightrope walker who walks a razor’s edge without perception of risk. Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political action has always been a continuous gamble. And even in his last mandate he remained faithful to the line, between ‘impossible’ mediations on Ukraine, the clash with NATO over the entry of Finland and Sweden and the preparations for new military operations against the Kurds in Syria.
And there would still be dozens of topics for a leader who has been in power for 20 years and who never ceases to amaze. A continuous relaunch of him, in which new fronts (and clashes) open up, while others close with a handshake. Today, despite the health problems manifested during the electoral campaign, he is preparing for his tried and tested number of which he is the absolute champion: winning the elections. On his way this time he found opposition as fierce as ever, which joined together to block his way. But there are many who think that his name will come out with a majority from the ballot box.
On the international front, Erdogan, once a firefighter and another arsonist, in recent years has played on several tables at the same time, with a secret dream: to host a historic meeting between Putin and Zelensky on Turkish soil. Getting the two leaders to make peace is a worry and declared objective of the Sultan who in March 2022 touched the big target, hosting the foreign ministers of the two countries at war in Antalya.
However, mediator Erdogan achieved a great result with the signing in Istanbul of the agreement that unblocked grain exports from Ukraine, averting a global food crisis. A diplomatic success that the Turkish president, currently among the few world leaders able to hold dialogue with Zelensky and Putin at the same time, replied a week ago by snatching the go-ahead for the extension of the agreement for two months. And in his reckless transitions from one front to another, he also facilitated an exchange of prisoners between the sides.
But Erdogan’s hand cannot be just a feather. Again in the Ukrainian context, the Turkish leader has engaged in a furious political battle against the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO. The two Scandinavian countries, intimidated by Russian warmongering, asked the Alliance for hospitality, receiving messages of jubilation from all members. All but two: Orban’s Hungary and, of course, Turkey.
Ankara, after granting Helsinki’s accession, is forcing Sweden’s hand to have certain personalities linked to the PKK or the Gulen network, movements considered to be terrorist groups. A tug of war, the one with Stockholm, which for the moment sees no winners, but the only certainty in life is that in the end Erdogan will get something in return, as his approach to the migrant crisis also teaches ‘EU.
Meanwhile, the Turkish president is weaving his regional fabric, creating new alliances. In fact, he made peace with the Emirates and Israel and began a “new era” in relations with Saudi Arabia after the chill following the atrocious death reserved by Gulf hitmen to journalist Jamal Khashoggi in his country’s consulate in Istanbul. A rapprochement sanctioned by Erdogan’s visit to King Salman’s reign reciprocated by that in Ankara of the heir to the Saudi throne, Mohammed bin Salman.
In the background, but not so much, remain the new campaign in northern Syria against the Kurds that the Turkish president has been threatening for some time, but which now seems to have been set aside in the name of a possible reconciliation with Assad, and the clash with Greece.
But Erdogan will play the decisive match for his political fate today. Prime minister from 2003 to 2014 and head of state since then, he steered the country – through a disputed constitutional referendum in 2017 – from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. The polls will determine whether the Sultan will have been right this time too.
KILICDAROGLU, THE ALEVITE WHO PROMISES DEMOCRACY AND FREEDOM
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 74, a social democrat, is the man chosen by the opposition – not without controversy to tell the truth – to revolutionize the Turkish political scene and put an end to Erdogan’s twenty years in power. The leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the main opposition force in Turkey, is ready for the final showdown with the Sultan. A difficult undertaking, given the results of the first round, but not impossible according to his entourage, who has been pressing the Syrian repatriation button a lot in recent days to gain consensus among the nationalists.
To become president, Kilicdaroglu put together an electoral cartel that was not exactly homogeneous from a political point of view (ranging from openly left-wing forces to the extreme right) and whose leaders at the beginning were not all convinced they were converging on his name. Indeed, the announcement of his possible candidacy had split the opposition with the exit from the bloc of the Good Party (Iyi), the second force after the CHP, whose leader Meral Aksener preferred that of the mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, or as an alternative of that of Ankara, Mansur Yavas. The compromise that has saved the apparent unity of the opposition is that, in case of victory, the two mayors will be Kilicdaroglu’s deputies.
For many years at loggerheads with Erdogan, as evidenced by the court cases from which he has always been defeated, the CHP leader since 2010 has not had any major electoral successes to oppose the Sultan in his political career. Elected deputy for the first time in 2002, Kilicadorglu was defeated in the local elections in Istanbul in 2009. Nonetheless, the following year he was elected by plebiscite to lead the CHP.
The 2011 elections were relatively positive, as the party – albeit almost doubled by Erdogan’s Akp – achieved an increase in consensus reaching 26%. An almost similar result was achieved in 2015, while in the 2018 elections the candidate of the CHP, Muharrem Ince (who this year announced his withdrawal a few days before the first round), slightly exceeded 30%.
In 2016, he escaped unharmed after the car he was traveling in in the Black Sea province of Artvin ended up in the middle of a clash between gunmen and soldiers. In the clash, according to the Sabah newspaper, two soldiers were killed. An adviser to him explained that it had not been an attack on him.
In 2017 he made the international media talk again by leading a peaceful march from Ankara to Istanbul to demand a reform of the judicial system. Kilicdaroglu’s protest was triggered by the 25-year prison sentence of the CHP journalist and parliamentarian, Enis Berberoglu, accused of espionage and of having provided the Cumhuriyet newspaper with information for a scoop that put the government in a bad light. The march ended in Istanbul with a great rally in front of a huge crowd.
In case of victory, he has promised, repeating it like a mantra in the various appointments that have punctuated his electoral campaign, he will govern Turkey in a more democratic way than Erdogan. One of the highlights of his campaign was certainly when, breaking a taboo, he revealed that he is an Alevi. This minority, which observes rites and rules different from those of traditional Islam, has been the victim of discrimination and massacres in Turkey. Some Sunni extremists still consider the Alevis as heretics and even refuse to eat a dish cooked by them considering it “impure”. If he were to be elected, Kilicdaroglu has promised to put an end to discrimination and “sectarian disputes that have caused suffering”.
In foreign policy, his goal is to shift Ankara’s focus by giving priority to relations with the West rather than the Kremlin. “We want to become part of the civilized world – he explained – We want free media and a totally independent judiciary. Erdogan doesn’t think so. He wants to be authoritarian. The difference between us and Erdogan is like between black and white”.
His campaign will be remembered for the commercials shot around his kitchen table, with the tea towels hung neatly in the background. In one of these videos he appeared with an onion in his hand, warning that prices will continue to rise if Erdogan remains in power.
THE ‘THIRD MAN’ OGAN, HIS VOTES NEEDLE OF THE LIBRA
An anti-immigrant ultranationalist with Kemalist sympathies. Sinan Ogan, 54, was the surprise of the first round of the Turkish presidential elections, dominated by the clash between the incumbent president and the leader of the opposition.
Neither of the two managed to cross the fateful threshold of 50% and, according to all observers, the 5.17% obtained by Ogan with his ATA coalition which takes its name from the founder of the Republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, will be decisive in the ballot.
In a move described as “surprising” by the government newspaper Sabah, but which did not greatly surprise observers, Ogan announced earlier this week that he supported Erdogan. A sort of ‘feud’ arose within the Zafer (Victory) Party, for which he was a candidate in the first round, with the ultranationalist and party leader, Unit Ozdag, who instead communicated his endorsement for Kilicdaroglu .
A former member of the MHP, the nationalist party that is allied with Erdogan’s AKP, Ogan holds a degree in business administration from Marmara University and completed a doctorate from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
In 2011, he was elected deputy in Igdir, his hometown in eastern Anatolia which has a sizable Azerbaijani population. He himself has Azerbaijani roots. His exit from the MHP dates back to 2017, on the occasion of the disputed constitutional referendum with which Erdogan transformed the country’s political architecture from a parliamentary system to a presidential one. Ogan opposed the MHP’s decision to back the reform.
Ogan, with a haughty bearing and always impeccable appearance, said he was “very comfortable” in the role of kingmaker and used his usual harsh tones to clarify his conditions ahead of the ballot: “What I want is clear, it is the departure of the Syrians. All refugees must return home”.