If the leader of the secular opposition in Turkey succeeded in forcing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to run for a second round, his chances of winning on May 28 seem even more difficult.
Twenty years after Erdogan assumed power, the Turkish opposition is betting on the boredom of the Turks, especially the youth, among whom about five million are voting for the first time. It is also betting on the difficult economic situation and the deterioration of the value of the lira, which led to a rise in inflation in the fall to nearly 85%.
But the conservative Islamic president, contrary to the expectations of all opinion polls, won Sunday 49.5% of the vote, compared to 44.89% for Kilicdaroglu. And if the leader of the secular opposition succeeded in forcing his opponent into a second round for the first time ever, his chances of winning on May 28 seem remote.
After these disappointing results, the opposition resumed its campaigns, trying to mobilize the voices of the youth to remove the outgoing president. Addressing those young people who cannot even “afford the price of a coffee,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu wrote on Twitter: “You have been robbed of the joy of life while young people are supposed to be carefree. We have 12 days ahead, we must get out of the tunnel (and darkness).”
“Young people only come once,” added the 74-year-old candidate for the Republican People’s Party (social-democratic-secular), who heads a coalition of conservatives, nationalists and liberals from the center-right and left.
Challenge the mobilization of voters again
In fact, the campaign tacitly started even before the official results were announced for the first round, which mobilized around 89% of the voters. On Sunday night, as votes were being counted, Erdogan appeared with his arms raised to an enthusiastic crowd from the balcony of the AKP headquarters in Ankara, while the perimeter of the CHP headquarters remained desolate.
On Tuesday, Kemal Kilicdaroglu warned that his party should “fight harder to get rid of power with such brutality,” while his camp denounced the attempt to silence every dissenting voice and the restrictions imposed on the media.
“Kemal Kilicdaroglu is not a new name for young people, he is 74 years old, and he has not really succeeded in moving young voters,” said Berk Esen, a political science researcher at Sabancı University in Istanbul. He added that “the opposition is completely disjointed, and it will be difficult for it to regroup to win” in the second round on May 28, expecting a “lower turnout” than it was on Sunday.
The ability to mobilize opposition voters remains the biggest challenge in the second round, especially in the southern regions of the country affected by the February 6 earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people.
It seems that the opposition alliance, which includes six parties, today needs to make electoral efforts that seem impossible to overthrow Erdogan, who needs only a few additional votes to extend his rule that has continued since 2003 until 2028, and he was less than half a point short of winning from the first round, that is. About half a million votes out of 64 million voters.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for the Turkish presidency and close adviser to Erdogan, said on Tuesday: “The second round will be easier for us. There is a five-point difference (between the candidates), about two and a half million votes. It seems that they have no possibility to bridge this gap.”
The Kurdish vote: a double-edged sword
The Kurds, an ethnic minority who account for about 10 percent of the electorate, are likely to vote strongly for Kilicdaroglu in the second round. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party announced at the end of April its support for the opposition leader, himself an Alevi Kurd and representing one of the most persecuted communities in Turkey.
But Sunday’s turnout in Kurdish-majority provinces is believed to have been hovering around 80 percent, well below the national average of roughly 89 percent.
Gaining greater Kurdish support is a double-edged sword that could make Kilicdaroglu’s bid for power nearly impossible. In his offensive rhetoric, Erdogan relied on linking the opposition to the outlawed armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which waged an armed insurgency against the Turkish state for decades, a rhetoric that succeeded in framing the nationalists and conservatives.
Kursad Ertuğrul, of the Middle East Technical University in Ankara, thinks Erdogan’s campaign will continue to focus on security issues, a winning formula among Turkey’s “nationalist-conservative” working class despite the severe impact of the economic crisis.
He added that the idea of building a “great Turkey” through infrastructure projects and benefiting from “the moral sensitivities of the conservative majority” was also at the heart of the Turkish president’s messages.