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How did Erdogan win the Turkish presidential election?

The opposition candidate Kemal Kılıcdaroglu dropped support for Kurdish rights and attacked refugees after the first round
Issue 2857
Edogan turkish electoral president

The re-elected president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Picture: NATO/Flickr)

Turkey’s president Recep Recep Tayyip Erdogan won re-election on Sunday, extending his 20-year rule. He took around 52 percent of the vote in a run-off against opposition CHP party candidate Kemal Kılıcdaroglu’s 48 percent. 

Erdogan’s victory was likely after he headed Kılıcdaroglu in the first round two weeks previously. A third candidate, the fascist Sinan Ogan, threw his support behind Erdogan for the run-off.

But even then the margin was very narrow, much closer than in previous elections where Erdogan won. Erdogan has ruled through repression and brutal attacks on the Kurdish minority. In his victory speech, he continued to attack the opposition and tried to slur them as “LGBT lovers”.

His complete domination of the state media helped him massively through the election campaign. Kılıcdaroglu just lost a distorted contest.

Autocrats of the world rushed to congratulate Erdogan. The emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani and Hungary’s prime minister Viktor Oban expressed their joy even before the state announced the final results.

But Erdogan has also mobilised sections of the working class and poor people. He claimed to stand for the rights of Muslims against the supposed threat of an oppressive anti-Islamic military and opposition.

Erdogan, who has backed most of Nato’s aggressive imperialism during the last two decades, hypocritically posed as a peacemaker in Ukraine and an opponent of US militarism.

But he also profited from the disarray and right wing lurch of his opponents. The opposition had hoped for a first-round victory on 14 May. This was based on polls that indicated Kilicdaroglu would break beyond the 50 percent mark needed to win outright without a run-off.

Yet that victory failed to materialise. Major crises—over 100,000 Covid deaths, rampant inflation and the state’s failures around the February earthquake which saw at least 50,000 die—were not enough for Kılıcdaroglu to win.

Kılıcdaroglu reacted by moving to drop any support for Kurdish rights and by ramping up attacks on refugees.

When campaigning ahead of the first vote Kilicdaroglu said several times that, if elected, he would free Selahattin Demirtas. He is the former co-chair of the pro-Kurdish HDP party from jail. This was part of a broader defence of civil liberties and democratic freedoms.

But in his first campaign speech after the first round, Kilicdaroglu made a sharp U-turn. He said, “Erdogan, aren’t you the one who sat at the table with terrorist organisations many times and made secret bargains behind the door without our nation’s knowledge?” Erdogan’s government in 2013 announced a short-lived ceasefire with the Kurdish PKK armed movement.

He also vowed to “send all refugees home” as soon as he came to power. The country has more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees living within its borders and others who have migrated from countries including Afghanistan. “Erdogan, you did not protect the borders,” Kılıcdaroglu declared.

These unprincipled concessions might have attracted a few right-wingers. But they repulsed others. Reha Ruhavioglu, director of the Diyarbakir-based Kurdish Studies Centre, said Kurdish voters lost interest in the opposition alliance as Kılıcdaroglu drifted right.

“Demotivation stems from the CHP’s political discourse, which shifted from reconciliation to security politics,” he said. Turnout in Diyarbakir fell from 82 percent in the first round to 76 percent in the second. Turnout also fell in the big cities that favour the opposition.

Sunday was the 10th anniversary of the start of the anti-government Gezi Park movement. This saw a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest taking place initially in the park adjacent to Istanbul’s famous Taksim Square which then spread across Turkey.

It turned into the biggest anti-government riots the country had seen for decades. And more recently workers have launched some strikes over plummeting living standards. But the opposition campaign did not have any sense of that type of resistance.

Ahead of Sunday’s voting, the Dsip Turkish socialist group said, “Whoever comes to power, a heavy economic attack will begin on the working class and the oppressed.” And it added, “We call on all workers and all opposition forces to meet on the ground of a united struggle that will rapidly organise active solidarity with the immigrants and the Kurdish people against racism.”

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