Turkiye run-off elections

ByElsa Sc S

Doing her graduation from LUMS & a keen researcher


June 3, 2023

Turkiye Run-Off Elections

Elsa Sc S takes a look at an
important election

Turkiye Run-Off Elections – Days before the commencement of the polling for the run-off elections, the leading contestants are running hard to gain endorsements from political operators in the field. With the election hanging in balance it surely is the only approach left for the contestants to pursue which they are accordingly engaged in. The endorsements have put unaligned political leaders in the position of kingmaker as the polls of 14 May had ended in a deadlock with Erdogan who is seeking to extend his two decades in power, came close to securing a majority with 49.5% of the vote in the first round, compared to Kilicdaroglu’s 44.9%. The latest development in this respect is that the opposition achieved success in garnering endorsement of far-right Turkish leader Umit Ozdag for their candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu for the Turkish presidency. The endorsement has come on a certain price and that is confirmed by Ozdag who said that they had agreed on a plan to send millions of migrants back to their countries within a year. Ozdag, who leads the Victory Party, said he had held similar talks with Erdogan but decided against endorsing him because his plans did not involve repatriating migrants.

Ozdag’s decision contrasts sharply with that of his ultranationalist ally, Sinan Ogan, who won nearly 2.8 million votes as third candidate for the presidency and earlier this week pledged his support for President Erdogan. Turkey hosts the most refugees in the world, with 3.5 million Syrians under temporary protection. But many Syrians are living there unofficially and irregular migrants have also arrived from Afghanistan and Iran. It has been estimated that there are at most six million refugees and irregular migrants in Turkey. Ozdag said he had agreed a seven-point plan with the opposition challenger that involved sending back all refugees and fugitives, especially Syrians, to their home countries within a year in line with international law and human rights. In the run-up to the second round, Kilicdaroglu has doubled down on his pledge to send Syrians home within two years and accused President Erdogan of letting 10 million refugees in. Erdogan has promised to accelerate the voluntary repatriation one million Syrians.

Kilicdaroglu who was chosen to run for president by an alliance of six opposition parties fell 2.5 million votes short of Erdogan on 14 May and needs to attract voters who either backed Sinan Ogan in the first round or did not vote at all. Kilicdaroglu’s allies had been confident of unseating the president with a promise to hand powers back to parliament but he faces an uphill task in overturning Erdogan’s first-round lead. He is also backed by the main pro-Kurdish party which makes up 10% of the vote. As part of the agreement with the far-right Victory Party leader, the six-party Nation Alliance is said to have approved a deal saying that all terrorist organisations will be fought including the Kurdish militant group Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). That could affect Kilicdaroglu’s bid for Kurdish voters to give him their support.

Earlier Erdogan secured the endorsement of an ultra-nationalist whose third-place finish helped force Turkiye’s first election runoff. Sinan Ogan’s 5.2 per cent of the vote in the 14 May general election deprived Erdogan of an outright victory for the first time in his 20-year rule. Erdogan lobbied hard to secure his endorsement as Sinan was also holding separate negotiations with allies of opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Ogan portrays himself as an ardent supporter of a brand of Turkish nationalism espoused by the post-Ottoman republic’s creator Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He has demanded the immediate expulsion of millions of migrants and sought a firm stance on terrorists, a euphemism for Kurdish groups fighting for broader autonomy in Turkiye’s southeast. The 54-year-old also tried to stop the opposition from discussing constitutional changes that could dilute language stressing the importance of Turkishness at the expense of other ethnicities.

The endorsement of Sinan Ogan appears not very beneficial for Erdogan as skeptics question how much weight Ogan’s endorsement carries with his voters. His tiny party has only been around for a few months and most of his support appears to be disaffected with both Turkiye’s Islamic-rooted leader and his 74-year-old secular rival. But it undermines Kilicdaroglu’s urgent efforts to expand his appeal among more nationalist voters in the run-up to the second round. Kilicdaroglu ran a more inclusive campaign that focused on Turkiye’s raging economic crisis and Erdogan’s crackdown on civil liberties during his second decade of rule. But he struck a decidedly more nationalist tone in his first post-election appearance last week. The former civil servant pledged to send all the refugees home when he comes to power and accused Erdogan of failing to protect the borders and honour of our country. Erdogan had signaled that he did not intend to make any concession to Ogan to secure his support. Kilicdaroglu sounded defiant in a tweet posted moments after Ogan’s announcement.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is evincing tremendous confidence before the run-off polls scheduled to be held on 28 May as he prepares to enter into the election battle that promises to be a historic occasion and which may give Erdogan extension in his tenure spanning two decades of his rule till 2028. However, the fact remains that secular leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu gave the opposition’s best performance of Erdogan’s dominant era in 14 May parliament and presidential polls. The retired bureaucrat of Kurdish Alevi descent broke ethnic barriers and Erdogan’s stranglehold on the media and state institutions to win almost 45 per cent of the vote though Erdogan still came within a fraction of a point of topping the 50 per cent threshold needed to win in the first round. Interestingly, 69-year old Erdogan managed to emerge as the leading contender despite Turkey’s worst economic crisis since the 1990s and opinion surveys showing him headed for his first national election defeat.

Though not succeeding in his first effort to de-seat Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu will now need to rally his deflated troops and beat the odds yet again to wrest back power for the secular party that ruled Turkey for most of the 20th century. It is however pointed out that it will be an uphill struggle for Kilicdaroglu in the second round. Erdogan rode a nationalist wave that saw smaller right-wing parties pick up nearly 25 per cent of the parallel parliamentary vote. Kilicdaroglu is courting these voters in the second presidential round and he has revamped his campaign team and tore up his old playbook for the most fateful week of his political career. He has replaced chatty clips that he used to record from his kitchen with desk-thumping speeches and pledges to immediately rid Turkey of millions of migrants.
However, Kilicdaroglu’s sharp right turn could prove costly with voters from Kurdish regions that overwhelmingly backed him in the first round. Kurds embraced Erdogan during his first decade in power because he worked to lift many of their social restrictions. They turned against him when Erdogan formed his own alliance with Turkey’s nationalist forces and began to unleash purges after surviving a failed coup attempt in 2016. Kilicdaroglu’s new and more overtly nationalist tone echoes a secular era during which Kurds, who make up nearly a fifth of Turkey’s population, were stripped of basic rights. The Weekender


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