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Keep Your Eyes On The Ballot
You don’t have to understand this Balenciaga election meme to enjoy it, but you do have to understand the electoral dynamics explained by journalist Michael Sercan Daventry in our Q+A to be ready for whatever happens Sunday.
Announcement: After the dust settles, we’re excited to invite you to a post-election Q+A with Alan Makovsky, a long-time Turkey analyst and former member of the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs. Join us Tuesday at 1500 GMT.
And do check out İnanç Yıldız’ report on how Ankara residents rate Mansur Yavaş and what that might mean for the opposition’s prospects at the ballot box.
It’s the biggest vote in a generation. Literally, about 5 million first-time voters may very well decide Sunday’s elections, in which they play a wildcard role for what remains an extremely tight race.
A fresh KONDA poll suggests main opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is just shy of ending this contest in the first round, and apparently opposition supporters are raving in Rize. Also in breaking news: Muharrem İnce just pulled out of the presidential race, officially becoming the cryptocurrency of candidates for making young supporters believe he had value, when it was all just memes and hype.
But considering the three sentences you just read were almost unimaginable a month ago, we should probably just wait for official results and remember to eat food in the meantime.
Anything can happen between now and Monday. Kılıçdaroğlu said it himself, warning supporters of the prospects for violence in a message last Thursday. MHP chair Devlet Bahçeli then upped those prospects with verbal threats of violence Saturday, and as you know by now, rocks rained down on İstanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu Sunday, cutting his Erzurum campaign rally short. AKP-MHP reactions were not reassuring.
On the campaign trail, the opposition has maintained its message of hope and change, while Erdoğan has kept serving the same accusations as before, conveniently summed up in this long tweet, proving the new perks on verified accounts can serve a purpose.
Highlighting his advantage as an incumbent, Erdoğan gave public workers a 45 percent pay raise Tuesday, beating Kılıçdaroğlu to the punch, who promised something similar Friday. Regardless of who wins, both sides are pledging constitutional reforms, which unlike wage hikes, are bound to set Turkey on two significantly different paths in the years to come.
Did we mention the stakes are high yet? Now we can move to voting day itself and the potential irregularities, imbalances and information black outs that may or may not take place Sunday. For details, Merve Tahiroğlu, Turkey program director at POMED, wrote a sharp summary of the options available in the government’s election day toolbox.
Despite all of the above, Tahiroğlu told Turkey recap the opposition is prepared to counter irregularities and she remains optimistic on the Supreme Election Council’s (YSK) role in the process.
“I have a lot of confidence in the opposition’s ability to prevent or at least expose election security issues that might come up on Sunday,” Tahiroğlu said. “They’ve really been prioritizing this issue and have been trying to get pro-opposition or independent monitors at polling stations throughout the country.”
Asked what options the opposition has to challenge election results, Tahiroğlu added:
“They will file their complaints with and submit evidence to the YSK, which will review it. You might ask if the YSK would make a fair assessment of the evidence. I think if the opposition and civil society work together in disseminating this information, the public can put enough pressure on the YSK to do the right thing.”
Striking a cautious tone, Nate Schenkkan, senior director of research at Freedom House, who spoke on these topics in detail Tuesday, told Turkey recap the YSK has made a “series of questionable decisions” at “crucial moments in the biggest elections in the last decade,” with impacts on the 2014 Ankara elections, 2017 referendum and 2019 İstanbul elections.
“The elections are so complex and the YSK has jurisdiction over so many questions that it’s impossible to foresee where and how they might intervene. But the problem is that if it does happen, there’s no effective remedy for it that can check the YSK.”
Some analysts have argued the YSK has displayed more independence in the lead up to this year’s vote, so change might be in the air, but the Interior Ministry headed by Süleyman “elections are the new coup” Soylu could also play a deciding factor in post-election scenarios.
“The risks I see there are twofold,” Schenkkan said. “First, that the Ministry will act as a political arm of Erdoğan’s government and prevent people from protesting if there are significant issues with the balloting.”
“Or say the opposition wins, but narrowly. Minister Soylu has made his commitments very clear: he thinks any result where the opposition wins is illegitimate. This raises the question of how the police will act if the opposition does win, but the government is reluctant to cede power. Will they act to prevent a peaceful transition of power?”
“It’s very unpleasant to think about these scenarios, but I think we have an obligation to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.”
As for the military, POMED’s Tahiroğlu wrote Defense Min. Hulusi Akar has kept a neutral position ahead of the vote and is “unlikely to be inclined to insert the TSK into a political maelstrom over the upcoming elections.”
That said, in the face of everything to come, we asked Tahiroğlu how Sunday’s attacks on İmamoğlu might impact voters.
“We’ll find out soon enough, but I’d expect it to help Kılıçdaroğlu,” she said. “The violence against İmamoğlu was a despicable assault on the democratic process and became a reminder of the regime’s disrespect for it. This has been the opposition’s message all along, and the attack reinforced it.”
– Diego Cupolo
Quake zone updates
Three months after the earthquakes, central Hatay and coastal districts Samandağ and Arsuz still feel like ghost towns at night. Electricity is limited to only some areas, and people who haven’t opted to live in tent cities or container camps or don’t have those possibilities continue to take shelter in makeshift tents or other alternative accommodations.
Conditions in the city continue to worsen, yet one of the speakers during a Hıdırellez ceremony Friday told people around a bonfire to smile at each other despite the circumstances. "We need to make others around us believe that we can rebuild our city," he said. "It seems like we only have each other to do that."
During a recent visit, Turkey recap observed this sense of isolation was widely shared among people in Hatay and it was also reflected in election preparations. According to data shared by the Hatay Metropolitan Municipality, nearly 500,000 people left the city after the Feb. 6 earthquakes, and about 250,000 of them are still registered in Hatay as voters.
"We only expect 15-20 percent of them to return to the city and vote," one municipality official said, withholding their name. "There was no central planning to bring them here. We have days until the elections and still need to figure out how to transport and host those people."
The municipality official told Turkey recap that despite their willingness to cooperate with Ankara, the central government has been unresponsive to them and other public authorities in the city. They alleged AFAD, which is in charge of disaster management, hesitated to cooperate with them because the mayor, Lütfü Savaş, is from the opposition.
On the issue of bringing people to Hatay for election day, AFAD announced one-way tickets would be covered if the earthquake survivors want to return to their origin cities. At the same time, political parties like CHP, TİP, and YSP have set up organizations to transport voters, though the task will be immense considering the numbers.
"Election day will be difficult," confessed Coşkun Sönmez, a CHP volunteer. "But we will give our word in Antakya. Our people will punish those who left us alone."
Sönmez lost his cafe in the old town of Antakya. According to him, there is no chance the AKP will get a significant share of votes from the city.
An AKP supporter in a different part of Hatay disagrees and reflects similar sentiments to those reported by Reuters: "Yes, some problems occurred during the first few days," he told Turkey recap. "But, our reis is the only one who can solve our problems."
Brawl of duty
As we approach voting day in Turkey, overseas ballot boxes (including in Ukraine) closed on May 9, and sacks of votes were flown to the nation to be counted. With long lines, a record turnout of 53.18 percent (and voting continuing at ports and customs), it seems the stakes are being felt abroad as well as at home.
“In the previous elections held in 2018, the diaspora vote accounted for 3 percent of the total votes. With the upcoming elections expected to be a close race according to polls … the diaspora vote [is] more crucial than ever,” said Nienke van Heukelingen, research fellow at Clingendael.
During previous elections in Germany and the Netherlands, a significant number of the Turkish community voted for Erdoğan. However, Van Heukelingen said an even larger group does not vote, mostly made of youth that feel less connected to Turkey.
Overseas voting has offered a good test run for Sunday, Medyascope reported. Yet various issues and irregularities were reported. Images surfaced of ballots with a dot in the circle underneath Erdoğan, but Teyit fact checkers reported these ballots were not used.
Various cities experienced some violence at Turkish voting stations, with the worst issues centered in Amsterdam. Efe Kerem Sözeri was an election watcher at an Amsterdam polling station that experienced some conflicts, and told Turkey recap there had been bitterness between YSP and MHP election observers since day one.
However, the situation escalated on Sunday, as he said the AKP-MHP side called in people from the Osmanlı Ocakları (a pro-Erdoğan group) and the Kurdish side had some outside support, too.
The fighting continued for a while, until police separated the groups. Official observers stayed with the ballot boxes until the surrounding areas were cleared. “For five hours, we waited on the concrete floor,” Sözeri said.
See-rian eye to eye
On Wednesday, FM Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu met with his Russian, Syrian and Iranian counterparts in Moscow, the first such meeting between the four countries since 2011.
Post-meeting statements were vague, focusing on “a positive and constructive atmosphere” (Russia), shared “goals and common interests” (Syria) and pledges to work on “a roadmap to advance the process gradually” (Turkey).
Notably five days before elections, Çavuşoğlu mentioned they stressed the need for “working together to establish the basis for returns of Syrians.”
As concrete developments might not be expected soon, Bloomberg’s Onur Ant wrote: “The chief sticking point is likely to be Turkey’s continued presence in the north of Syria.”
Turkish, Russian and Ukrainian officials remain in talks over the İstanbul-based Joint Coordination Center (JCC) to facilitate the continuation of the grain deal, which is set to expire May 18.
The Kremlin previously said it would not extend the UN-brokered pact unless its demands were met, but Çavuşoğlu remains optimistic that they will seal the deal for another two months.
Throughout, there’s been no reported slapping incident, unlike last week’s Black Sea Economic Cooperation assembly in Ankara.
Succeeding in extending the grain deal would be part of Turkey’s strategy to maintain relations with Black Sea neighbors while pursuing its own economic interests as better outlined by the GMF here. Russian ties are especially essential for Turkey’s energy imports, which also come with deferred payment benefits, as Reuters highlights here.
Recently leaked US intelligence reports claim Turkey’s middleman approach is actually leaning in favor of Russia as the intel indicates Turkey helps Russia evade strict Western sanctions while also providing military equipment.
Turkey’s new domestic gas projects could also be part of this equation. Citing experts, Politico writes Turkey’s Black Sea gas hub could be used to re-sell energy resources as “it would be harder to differentiate between, for example, Azerbaijani and Russian supplies.”
In economic news, Finance Min. Nureddin Nebati sought to prevent the difference in exchange rates between the Grand Bazaar and the official banks, while traders took measures ahead of expected volatility after the elections.
While Nebati continued to defend TÜİK, in an interview with Bloomberg, Kılıçdaroğlu criticized the statistics institute, saying: “We do not have enough information on our obligations, commitments, or income and expenditure.”
He also vowed to prioritize a probe of the Borsa İstanbul and assess and repair the damage done to the economy, something that is a “grotesquely difficult” task, the FT reports.
With an AKP official describing the coming period as a “lost year”, former economy tsar Mehmet Şimşek was spotted on Erdoğan’s campaign trail, but the debate continues over whether the president will revert to orthodox policies.
Laying out six economic scenarios ahead, M. Murat Kubilay writes: “How much will change after the May elections remains unclear, but what we do know is that Turkey’s economic status quo cannot be sustained.”
The crass menagerie
And with the stakes so high this weekend, here’s a few laughs from the interwebs to bring down your blood pressure:
An İstanbul stiftung chief won this week’s coronation meme contest.
The political spectrum is alive and well in these updated Turkish voter profiles.
This TikTok makeup tutorial gets to the foundation of what’s at stake Sunday.
Turkey’s Erdoğan risks alienating conservative women voters (Politico)
Former UNDP chief and Turkish minister Derviş dies at 74 (AP)
Turkey’s drones are killing Kurdish children in northeast Syria (Al-Monitor)
Nearly 300 people detained in operations targeting HDP in a month, says official (Bianet)
Turkey Fines JPMorgan Citing Disruptive Equity Transactions (Bloomberg)
Trial over deadly İstanbul bombing begins in Turkey (AP)
Turkey set to keep strong Russia ties whoever wins election (Reuters)
Is 100,000 barrels of production possible in the newly discovered oil reserve in Gabar? (Bianet)
TRT launches global streaming service Tabii (AA)
How Turkey’s President Is Weaponizing Culture (Hyperallergic)
Turkey’s Earthquake Election
Journalist Suzy Hansen looks at the mismanagement and corruption that preceded the Feb 6. tremors, writing: “The earthquakes highlighted a two-pronged failure—the failure to prepare and the failure to respond—that was rooted in the A.K. Party’s decades-long reign.” (New Yorker)
Turkey's 2023 Elections: Perspectives on a Critical Vote
Featuring chapters by Can Selçuki, Seren Selvin Korkmaz, Berk Esen, Alan Makovsky and M. Murat Kubilay, this MEI report details various aspects of upcoming elections, which are considered “the most consequential ever”, as editor Gönül Tol writes in the introduction. (MEI)
Will the Turkish State Accept Kılıçdaroğlu as President?
Analyst Halil Karaveli highlights the expectations of the Kurdish voters, and argues even if Kılıçdaroğlu gets elected, the question is whether the “state is going to hand over the presidency to someone who will owe his election in no small part to the support of a movement that defies the state, and that will be expecting concessions in return.” (Turkey Analyst)
Autocratization vs. democratization: The new framework for understanding political competition in Turkey in view of the elections and beyond
Researcher Evangelos Areteos argues the Kemalism vs. Islamism paradigm has become obsolete, concluding: “The dynamic that has brought such a diverse group of parties together is not restricted to the common denominator that ‘Erdoğan has to leave’, but also stems from a profound social need for change and democratization.” (ELIAMEP)
May 12 ELIAMEP hosts a webinar titled “Turkey’s Double Elections: Domestic and International Implications” at 1400 GMT
May 12 The Washington Institute hosts a webinar titled "Turkey’s Historic May 14 Elections: What to Expect" at 1600 GMT
May 14 Substantially massive and unpredictable elections
May 16 Trial of former journalist turned politician Cengiz Çandar continues in İstanbul (background)
May 16 Turkey recap hosts a post-election Q+A with Alan Makovsky at 1500 GMT
May 16 Trial of Kurdish journalists arrested on 29 October starts in Ankara (background)
May 17 The Atlantic Council hosts a webinar titled "Turkish elections: Takeaways and implications" at 1330 GMT
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