Repression, religion and subsidies: Erdogan’s plan to win the presidential election

The countdown to the most important elections of 2023 has begun. During a speech last Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan called the fateful date for the presidential elections in Turkey: finally, it will be May 14, and not June 18, as originally planned. The President of Turkey reveals that he remains the only master on board capable of moving clock hands for the sole purpose of operating symbols. On May 14, 1950, his idol Adnan Menderes won the first free elections in Turkish history and ended the 22-year rule of the Kemalist party – the party of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – CHP, the main opposition party today.

Erdogan monopolized the throne for only 20 years, first as prime minister from 2003 to 2014 and then as president. But the leader of the AKP has never seemed in such a bad position: the opposition is finally united under the name “Table of Six”, polls predict defeat for the head of state in any case, and the economy continues to grow. crash. “Since 2002, President Erdogan has never been so fragile in the political arena,” said Adel Bakavan, Associate Fellow at the Turkey and Middle East Program at Ifri. he will have to make particularly strong gestures during the campaign.

While Erdogan is speeding up the timetable, the Turkish parties have still not been able to agree on the name of the candidate responsible for confronting him: as the Turkish press has repeated in recent weeks, even if the incumbent cannot win the elections, the opposition is quite capable of losing them. “The president still has four or five political levers, and he uses them all before the vote,” warns a powerful Turkish business leader. ready to do anything to win.” On the shores of the Bosporus, the coming weeks promise to be stormy.

1 – Repression

To win an election, the easiest way is probably to have no more opponents. The most serious of them, Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, was sentenced to two and a half years in prison last December for calling the officials who invalidated his 2019 elections “idiots.” risks blocking the road to the presidential elections: if Imamoglu filed an appeal and does not sleep behind bars, then today the risks seem too great for the opposition to nominate him a candidate against Erdogan.

Turkish justice, purged after the failed 2016 coup, does not intend to stop at the mayor of Istanbul. The left-wing HDP, which is pro-Kurdish and unites over 10% of voters, has been in the spotlight for years. “In order to convince and gain power, Erdogan must find topics that scare Turkish society and prove that he can deal with them,” Adel Bakavan said. the group has been at war with Turkey for 40 years.”

More than 6,000 party members are in jail and its accounts have been frozen ahead of a possible ban in the coming weeks. “For people who vote for or support the HDP, its ban is not an unimaginable disaster,” a young Kurdish lawyer from Istanbul recently explained to us. All Kurdish parties in recent history have been shut down, and years have passed when all HDP leaders are prosecuted, imprisoned, and HDP mayors are removed from office. The ban will only strengthen an already difficult situation.”

This election campaign is likely to take place in a particularly troubling environment: after shutting down the vast majority of the opposition press, Erdogan passed one of the most repressive free speech laws in October last year. Any publication of “false or misleading” information is now punishable by three years in prison in Turkey. This definition, vague enough to cover any controversy, has given a lot of weight to the words of researchers, journalists and activists. At the slightest word against the authorities, everyone knows that he is now threatened with prison.

2 – Religion

To stay in power, the one who earned the nickname “Imam Beckenbauer” when he played football as a youth has teamed up with the ultranationalists on one side and the Islamists on the other. But many are disappointed with Erdogan’s doctrine from a religious standpoint. To mobilize them on Election Day, the SEP plans to combine the presidential election with a referendum to enshrine freedom to wear the veil in the Constitution. “The most devout will not miss this defense and will go to the polls,” a local source said. “Erdogan is betting that by the time they come to vote, they will put his ballot in the ballot box for him. “

3 – Grants

During his first ten years in office, the economy was Erdogan’s forte, with growth close to 10% for a long time and average purchasing power tripling. During these auspicious years, millions of Turks were lifted out of poverty. But over the past ten years, GDP per capita has fallen from $12,600 to $7,500, and inflation is 137% year-on-year, according to independent group Enag. The economy has become Erdogan’s Achilles’ heel.

To ease the voter’s bill before the vote, the government has been distributing aid and financial assistance in recent weeks. In December, he lowered the retirement age, allowing 2.3 million people to stop working immediately, and raised the minimum wage by 55%. Civil servants’ salaries jumped 30% in January, and Erdogan promised to provide 30 billion euros in energy aid over the course of a year and build 500,000 new social housing units over five years.

4 – Invasion?

The war in Ukraine has damaged the international image of the Turkish president, unpredictable and irreplaceable. At the head of NATO’s second army, Ukraine’s leading supplier of drones, Erdogan remains close to Vladimir Putin and has expanded his country’s trade with Russia. Having established himself as a creator of peace, Reis shines on the international stage and, more than ever, Turkey’s foreign policy is seen in the light of its domestic problems. “The Russians need Turkey to maintain this role of a so-called mediator, while continuing to block the entry of Sweden and Finland into NATO,” says Fabrice Balanche, Middle East specialist and lecturer at Lyon-2 University. by keeping Erdogan more or less in their camp, and Turkey benefits economically from this situation.

The Turkish president is also initiating a rapprochement with his longtime enemy Bashar al-Assad to send four million Syrian refugees back to his country and obtain a pass to launch a ground offensive against Kurdish groups in northern Syria. “For Erdogan, attacking the Kurds is the perfect way to divide the opposition, which ranges from the Kemalists of the CHP who support such an operation to the Kurds of the HDP,” said Fabrice Balanche.

On the other side of the map, in western Turkey, Erdogan is stepping up threats to another historical enemy: Greece. After warning Athens that its army could “suddenly arrive” on the Greek islands at night, the Turkish government unveiled a new Typhoon missile in early January that could reach Greece in eight minutes. By contrast, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is also due to face elections in the spring and has not hesitated to raise tensions with Erdogan. Between military maneuvers and non-diplomatic insults in the Aegean, a crisis is brewing … Which never displeases the owner of Ankara.

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