In order to get the economy back on track, the opposition has promised to raise interest rates to bring inflation below ten percent “within two years”.
On Sunday, outgoing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan topped the results of the first round of the presidential elections, by obtaining 49.5 percent of the vote, contrary to expectations. Apparently, there are five lessons that can be drawn from this election.
The economy “doesn’t matter” much
The fall of the Turkish lira, which raised inflation to 85 percent in the fall, was seen as a handicap for Erdogan. However, the Turkish president, who raised the minimum wage three times during the year, intensified his election campaign promises, including doubling the salaries of public sector employees.
These “populist measures” have convinced a segment of the electorate in a country where “the economic vote is not as important as commentators see it,” according to researcher Bayrak Esen, a political scientist at Sabanci University in Istanbul.
In order to get the economy back on track, the opposition has promised to raise interest rates to bring inflation below ten percent “within two years”. Umit Akcay, professor of international economics, believes that these opposition promises, which are likely to slow down activity, “did not arouse enthusiasm among the Turks, who are already facing difficulties.”
The Kurdish vote is not enough for the opposition
Yohanan Benhaim, head of opposition studies at the French Institute for Anatolian Studies in Istanbul, points out that “it is the Kurdish vote that explains the good result of the opposition.”
Kemal Kilicdaroglu won the best results in the provinces in the Kurdish-majority southeast, especially in Diyabekir, where he won 72 percent of the vote after the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) rallied around him.
But the Kurdish voters, who have long been considered “king-makers” in the presidential elections, were unable this time to change the outcome of the elections. “Erdogan’s strategy of linking the opposition in the country to the Kurds on the one hand and the PKK and terrorism on the other hand, has proven to be successful,” said Bayram Bilgi, a researcher at the Siri Institute of Political Science.
The limited impact of the earthquake’s repercussions
Survivors expressed their anger after the devastating earthquake that struck the country on February 6, accusing the state of being late in reaching their provinces to help them, especially in Adiyaman and Hatay.
But Erdogan promised to rebuild 650,000 homes for earthquake survivors as soon as possible. According to Bayrak Esen, “the message seemed credible” to some voters.
Thus, the Turkish president retained very high results in the majority of the affected provinces and won 72 percent of the vote in Kahramanmaraş, 69 percent in Malatya and 66 percent in Adiyaman. In Hatay, his score remained unchanged at 48 percent.
The breakthrough achieved by the ultra-nationalist candidate, Sinan Ogan, was one of the poll’s surprises. This former deputy won more than 5 percent of the vote, while Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu allied with nationalist organizations as well.
“Nationalism is a component of the Turkish political scene,” said Umut Ozkirimli, a researcher at the Barcelona Institute for International Research. “It has been a constant component since the 1990s.”
The weight of the nationalists, whose various organizations collected Sunday 22 percent of the vote during the legislative elections that took place simultaneously with the presidential elections, can also be explained by the issue of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey.
“The biggest change in the situation is that the right and the far right are very much in the game,” says Yohanan Benhaim.
Miscalculations of opinion polls
All or most of the opinion polls showed Kilicdaroglu ahead of Erdogan, and some even predicted that the opposition would win as of the first round. However, the Turkish president proved her wrong by obtaining 49.50 percent of the vote, despite the fact that the battle was not resolved in the first round, as happened in 2018.