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Bayram with the Bayrams: An inside look at Turkey’s disgruntled voters
For at least 20 years, I’ve spent the first day of bayram (aka Eid al-Fitr) with my extended family. This means coming together with several generations of Bayrams under the same roof and talking.
We covered many topics Friday, which began with a long breakfast and continued with never-ending rounds of tea and börek, like all bayrams. This 10-hour 'bayram sohbeti' ritual touched on everything from the current status of the shoe business in Ankara to former US Pres. Donald Trump's hairstyle and world politics.
Normally, I get bored after hearing the same old stories and remembering I have little common ground with my family members. But this wasn’t the case this year.
The upcoming elections were on everyone's mind, and for the first time in Bayram family history, some members were hesitant to vote for the AKP, which they have been supporting since its establishment.
As you know, Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14, and recent opinion polls indicate its a neck-and-neck race, giving undecided voters significant importance.
"Some of those undecided voters are actually disgruntled ones," Ulaş Tol, from the İstanbul-based Social Impact Research Center, recently told Al-Monitor. "They support one side, but they are not happy about it. They are ready to break off."
This is exactly what I observed with many of my family members during bayram. They used to be committed AKP supporters and now they’re set to depart, but don’t know where to go yet.
As far as I know, as a Turkish-Sunni family with central Anatolian origins (Kayseri) and nationalist-conservative tendencies, the Bayrams have never voted for the CHP or any other leftist parties. On the contrary, most of them have been fierce backers of Pres. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
Over the years, the family's political stances oscillated between the AKP, MHP, BBP, and Milli Görüş. My relatives hold different professions. Among them is a shoemaker, an auto mechanic, a cleaner, a security guard, and a civil servant, all of them making an average monthly salary of, let’s say, 12,000 Turkish liras, or about $615 USD.
That’s our background. Now back to the present …
This bayram, as we all talked about elections, my father and my aunt's husband (enişte), were alone in supporting Erdoğan and his party. The others were not openly praising the main opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu or supporting the Millet İttifakı, but their fatigue and disapproval of the current government was evident in the air.
As homemade baklava – a point of pride for the women chefs in our family – was added to my plate, my father said: "We need Erdoğan for at least five more years. After that, even if he's not there, no one will be able to do anything to our country."
Others were unconvinced, including my uncle, other enişte, elder brother and sister-in-law. Again, it wasn't an open criticism against the president, but it was obvious that they weren't happy with the status quo.
They were immune to the arguments coming from the AKP-supporting side of the Bayrams.
"Yes, salaries increased, but our purchasing power decreased," the disgruntled side said. They also didn't care about Kılıçdaroğlu’s lack of charisma compared to Erdoğan, who they didn’t directly accuse of anything, but believed the president needed to be replaced after two decades in power.
"The coalition between Millet İttifakı and HDP will affect the country's integrity badly," the AKP front argued, noting they were losing ground.
"There is no such thing as Alevi-Sunni, Turkish-Kurdish [discrimination] anymore," the disgruntled undecideds answered. "People worried about their livelihood don’t need to engage in identity politics. That issue has been thoroughly eroded, and the tension must be dropped from the agenda."
At this point, the family's youngsters excused themselves to a separate room and began an 8-hour round of the video game, PUBG.
My dad stayed on course. He defined former AKP members-turned-rivals Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu as "ungrateful." Then he claimed Kılıçdaroğlu wouldn't be able to run the country with other party leaders as his vice presidents.
But the disgruntled members of the Bayram family – who all voted for the AKP before, remember – dismissed that point, as well.
"The real crisis is not caused by seven [VPs], but by one [man]," they said.
The Bayrams’ AKP front responded by noting shopping malls were full of people and streets were full of cars and that pensions were increased, saying these were all signs of a good economy. But still, the other side complained about the rising number of workers earning minimum wage and the skyrocketing prices.
In past bayrams under the Bayram roof, support for Erdoğan and AKP was unquestionable. I know almost everyone in that house had voted for Erdoğan up until today. But with the exception of my father, no relatives defended him with enthusiasm this holiday.
What I witnessed was a serious atmosphere of indecision among the Bayrams. The default reflex to vote for Erdoğan has become rusty, it seems, but they were still not convinced to vote for a change in power.
Like in the Bayram family, there are many unhappy voters in Turkey this election season, which is noteworthy in itself, according to Ulaş Tol. Presidential candidates and their political parties might want to directly address these disgruntled voters if they want to win.
Diego Cupolo, co-founder + editor @diegocupolo
Gonca Tokyol, freelance journalist @goncatokyol
Ingrid Woudwijk, freelance journalist @deingrid
Verda Uyar, freelance journalist @verdauyar
Gökalp Badak, editorial intern @gklpbdk