The Reis Is On
Two months, 8 weeks or 59 days to be precise. Voting day is coming, so we're hosting a Pre-election Q+A with Berk Esen Monday at 1500 GMT. No sign up required, simply join our livestream on YouTube at the start time and send us your questions!
And don’t miss our latest special report by Rabia Çetin on how the CHP is trying to sway Kurdish voters in southeast Turkey.
Pres. Erdoğan officially launched the election season Friday, setting the pressure cooker, no wait, the presidential and parliamentary election date to May 14.
Referring to the Feb. 6 earthquakes, he said it was crucial for the country to get through elections as soon as possible to refocus on recovery efforts: “Turkey has no patience for wasting time, distraction, or spending energy on unnecessary things.”
But ahead of the “fight of his political life”, Erdoğan announced a somber election campaign, without music and classic rally’s to respect earthquake victims, coining the slogan “For Turkey, right now.”
Recent polls and reports paint contrasting images in terms of voter preferences, while James in Turkey’s poll of polls showed “a steady but diminishing lead for the governing AK Party.”
Another key question is how voting will be organized in the earthquake zone. AA published some details here, which Bianet translated to English, but basically displaced voters can register their new addresses no later than March 17 (tomorrow) and their votes will be counted for the district they currently inhabit, not where they lived before the earthquake.
Which raises the question: how many Hatay residents will actually vote in Hatay?
As for other electoral procedures, the Supreme Election Board (YSK) announced Saturday 36 parties that are eligible to run, and published a handy election calendar. Here to help us break down the key phases is journalist and analyst Michael Sercan Daventry (aka James in Turkey):
The first phase “is the one we’re going through right now: the scramble to persuade as many parties as possible to join one side or another. It will define how many candidates we have standing in the presidential election,” he told Turkey recap.
Daventry expects no trouble for Erdoğan and opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu because their parties have more than 20 MPs in parliament, but other challengers need to collect 100,000 signatures in order to run.
“Supporters need to visit their local election office to nominate them in person, it cannot be done online. That could define whether other candidates – namely Muharrem İnce or Sinan Oğan – make the cut,” he added.
The final list of presidential candidates will be announced March 31. The second key phase will come when we learn how parliamentary candidates are defined (before April 9).
“All the parties are deep in calculations to make sure they field candidates from the right party in the right province to ensure the maximum number of MPs after the election,” Daventry said, adding that the Nation Alliance could run as a single entity, or the CHP and İYİ party could run separately from DEVA, Future and Saadet parties.
At the same time, the ruling People’s Alliance is looking to expand its reach by including Islamist fringe parties like HÜDAPAR and Yeniden Refah. A possibly risky move, Berk Esen told Al-Monitor.
“It looks very likely that tiny parties – including the radical religious HÜDAPAR – will be gifted at least a few winnable AK seats,” Daventry said, adding a joint list between the AKP and MHP is not impossible. “The permutations are endless.”
In terms of campaigning, the key date is April 23, or as Daventry puts it: “When Ramadan and the public holidays are over, the weather is better and the earthquake isn’t the most prominent national issue. That is when the campaign will really begin in earnest and it has the potential to get very, very nasty.”
– Ingrid Woudwijk
It’s Not Easy Plan B-ing Green
Few people knew about the Yeşil Sol Parti (YSP), a green-left party with about 3,000 members, before Tuesday when jailed HDP former co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş told followers on Twitter to get acquainted with the party and its logo. “It will be needed,” he added.
HDP officials hinted Wednesday they might run their candidates under the YSP banner to circumvent electoral obstacles arising from a looming decision in the HDP closure case. Meaning, this is Plan B if the HDP is banned.
As Ayşe Sayın reports in this detailed BBC Türkçe article, the shift to YSP won’t be finalized till at least next week after more details emerge on the trial timeline and also after HDP leaders meet with Kılıçdaroğlu, reportedly Saturday March 18.
This comes after Turkey’s top court unfroze HDP’s bank assets, but the road ahead for parliament’s third-largest party remains more uncertain than usual. Many questions remain about the HDP and YSP’s roles in the leftist Labor and Freedom Alliance (Emek ve Özgürlük İttifakı). And they’ll need answers very soon.
Regarding support for the Kılıçdaroğlu presidency, YSP co-spox İbrahim Akın told BBC Türkçe his party is leaning towards the joint opposition candidate to help end elections in the first round, but would make a formal announcement after more discussions.
Speaking to Turkey recap Wednesday Cahit Kırkazak, YSP executive committee member, said the party had been prepping for an HDP maneuver since the closure case began in 2021.
“The ruling party, through the mechanisms it controls in the high courts, is trying to shut down the HDP and what it represents,” Kırkazak said. “We, as YSP, are making sure our people are not left without a choice.”
Asked if YSP was pro-Kurdish, Kırkazak said:
“We are pro-disadvantaged groups,” which includes Kurds, women, Armenians and refugees in Turkey. “We have the same values as HDP. We are inclusive and progressive.”
YSP was founded in 2012 and in October 2022 changed its logo to a design resembling a reworked HDP logo. YSP has no MPs in parliament, but is represented through an alliance with HDP, Kırkazak told Turkey recap, adding YSP are currently active in 49 provinces.
Friday marks the 40th day since the twin earthquakes shook Turkey and neighboring Syria. The 40th day of losing a loved one has special meanings for almost every belief system in Turkey, and Nehna – a digital platform with deep roots in Antakya, will hold memorial events in İstanbul and Samandağ Saturday (link in title).
The death toll has risen to 48,448, according to the latest figure shared Monday by Interior Min. Süleyman Soylu. The number of displaced is still not definite – AFAD and international organizations project a range between 2 and 3.5 million people. Based on information Erdoğan shared during his latest and third visit to Hatay, 650,000 houses will need to be constructed in the earthquake region.
After the devastating earthquakes, $6 billion in aid for survivors was raised during a live broadcast show. The World Bank has made $1.78 billion in financing available, and several countries donated hundreds of millions of dollars and pledged to donate more.
Yet as we learned from Soylu's words, people in the disaster region still need dry food boxes, hygiene and cleaning products, underwear, summer clothes, food for breakfast, slippers and shoes. Images after the heavy rain in the region showed that better planning for temporary housing is still on the list of requirements.
At least 15 people lost their lives in flash floods that hit Turkey's southeastern Adıyaman and Şanlıurfa provinces – provinces also recovering from the earthquakes.
Meanwhile, Adıyaman governor Mahmut Çuhadar, became the first official to quit after the earthquakes. Çuhadar has "requested to be relieved of duty" due to health issues Friday. Another official, Serkan Gür, the head of the Bursa Provincial Directorate of Education, was removed from his position by a midnight presidential decree Saturday after an alleged tent scandal.
Also departing was Rahmi Doğan, the governor of Hatay, who announced his resignation Wednesday to run for the parliament in his hometown, Sivas, during the upcoming elections.
It’s not yet clear who will fulfill Doğan's duties in a city where the mayor previously said that about 20,000 people lost their lives. Turkey recap reached out to the Directorate of Communications and asked if there were further details on the subject, and the answer was simply "no."
Russian to judgment
March 15 marked 12 years since the start of the Syrian War, an event that devastated the region, its people and now the face of Syrian Pres. Bashar al-Assad, who looked visibly older when he arrived in Russia Tuesday.
Among other topics, Assad discussed Ankara-Damascus rapprochement with Russian Pres. Putin Wednesday ahead of an expected quadrilateral meeting on the Syrian war between the deputy FMs of Syria, Turkey, Iran and host nation Russia (which was later postponed).
According to Syria researcher Suhail al-Ghazi, Assad's initial delegation to Moscow didn’t include Deputy FM Ayman Sousan and pro-Syrian regime media reported Damascus would seek guarantees from Ankara for a Turkish troop withdrawal as a precondition to political meetings. (Though Syria’s FM and MoD were present).
“The Assad regime does not want to make any concessions but wants to procrastinate and wait for the Turkish election results to arrange its priorities,” al-Ghazi told Turkey recap.
Asked what the other parties would seek to get out of the Syria talks, if and when they take place, al-Ghazi said:
“Russia seeks to continue its policy of restoring the international recognition of Assad and ending the conflict in its favor, while Iran seeks to put a foot in the process to legitimize its military and political influence in Syria.”
“On the other side, Turkey wants to push the talks to steps that will lead towards facilitating the return of refugees, in addition to coordinating, with the other three parties, against the Syrian Democratic Forces,” whose removal along with American presence in northeast Syria appears to be a point of agreement for all four parties.
In other Russia-related news, the extension of the Black Sea grain deal remains in negotiations ahead of its expiration date: Saturday, March 18. And since March 1, Turkey has apparently been blocking the transit of goods sanctioned by the EU and US to Russia. As a result, the hashtag #Block4DaBloc was not trending, raising concerns about NATO unity.
Finnish Pres. Sauli Niinistö is in Turkey today and Friday on high expectations that Helsinki’s NATO bid could soon get the green light from Ankara. Unnamed Turkish officials told Reuters it is “highly likely” parliament would ratify Finland’s bid before going on recess in mid-April.
Speaking Wednesday, Erdoğan also said Turkey would “fulfill” its promise to Finland, upping the chances of an announcement during Niinistö’s visit, though the Reis never specified a timeline. Left behind is Sweden, whose president acknowledged Tuesday Helsinki might move forward alone.
The news comes after Swedish lawmakers passed an anti-terrorism bill last week to speed up their accession process and follows a meeting Tuesday between Turkey’s Presidential Spox İbrahim Kalın and US Nat. Sec. Advisor Jake Sullivan, in which the latter “underscored” Washington’s view that both nations should be admitted to NATO “as soon as possible,” according to a White House readout.
Even if Ankara gives both Finland and Sweden the thumbs up, foot-dragging in Budapest threatens to turn NATO expansion into the next edition of The Hungary Games.
Let’s debt loud
On the economic front, Turkey closed its first international bond deal since the earthquakes. According to a Min. of Treasury and Finance statement, Turkey borrowed $2.25bn due until 2029, with 70 percent of that amount coming from the UK, US and European investors. Turkish investors amounted for 21 percent of all bonds sold.
With this latest bond issue, the total amount Turkey obtained from international capital markets just this year rose to $5bn.
This comes as the post-earthquake rebuilding costs are expected to increase budget expenditures and put the treasury under more pressure in the coming months. In fact, the current account deficit hit all-time highs in January, before the quakes, according to official data released this week.
And like a cherry on top of it all, the Turkish lira fell against the USD once again after a couple months of stability, reaching a new record low of 19 TL per 1 USD.
But for some positive news - and that’s if you have no problem with TÜİK data’s credibility – unemployment in Turkey is on the decline.
According to official data released Friday, the number of unemployed people dropped in January by 0.5 percentage points on a monthly basis. Though striking differences remain in employment rates between men and women, with the latter only formally standing at about 31.2 percent.
The bloods and the jips
And apart from learning we can’t afford a TOGG, Turkey’s first domestically-produced electric car, this week brought a variety of lessons, including:
Hanging Erdoğan quotes at work can get you suspended.
Kılıçdaroğlu talks to cats.
After the tent scandal, Kızılay is not worthy of Karamollaoğlu’s blood.
The Turkish Constitutional Court is once again not Turkish enough for Bahçeli.
It’s never too late to espresso gratitude.
Kılıçdaroğlu visits Syrian border, once again vows to deport refugees in two years (Duvar)
Turkey's southeast exodus after earthquake puts manufacturing at risk (Reuters)
Lawyers search for justice in Turkish quake ruins (AFP)
Calm after quake: Greek PM says tension with Turkey easing (AP)
Crowd attempts to attack trans woman Selin Ciğerci (Bianet)
The new normal after Turkey's earthquake: A TV host and comedian gives his take (Global Voices)
TÜİK’s latest data raise eyebrows over COVID death counts (HDN)
CHP offers MP candidacy to slain Diyarbakır bar head's wife Türkan Elçi (Duvar)
Advisor of Turkey's biggest mafia boss visits Commander of Gendarmerie (Gercek News)
Kurdish umbrella group under Öcalan says Erdoğan will never offer real peace to Turkey's Kurds (Al-Monitor)
Turkey vis-à-vis Russia’s War against Ukraine
GMF’s Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı looks at Turkey’s balancing act between Russia and Ukraine, writing: “While additional setbacks faced by Russia on the battlefield leading to discontent at home could lead Turkey to distance itself from Moscow, Russian advances in Ukraine would result in Turkey doubling down on its policy act as a mediator.” (IAI)
Turkey’s foreign policy in the eastern Mediterranean: Peacemaking in Cyprus at a crossroads
Assessing peacemaking developments in Cyprus, Mercator-IPC fellow Esra Dilek concludes: “Turkey’s foreign policy regarding the Cyprus conflict entered a new phase in 2017. This was related to two interconnected developments: the failure of peace efforts (...) [and] increasing geopolitical competition over hydrocarbon resources in the Eastern Mediterranean region.” (IPC)
Will Turkey's earthquakes create shock waves on election day?
Prof. Soli Özel answers questions on the aftermath of the earthquakes, saying: “Despite propaganda efforts, two and a half months will not be enough to erase the government's failures. Although authorities have already begun rebuilding, those efforts are unlikely to restore the public’s confidence in the country’s future or its government.” (Institut Montaigne)
Conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh Destroys History as Well as Lives
Detailing examples of destroyed Armenian heritage in the territories controlled by Azerbeijan and the reverse, journalist Joshua Kucera writes: “As long as the two sides remain in conflict, the cycle of destruction seems fated to continue.” (New Lines)
Mar 16-17 Finnish Pres. Niinistö to visit Turkey, meet with Erdoğan (background)
Mar 16 ATÖLYE, Yabangee and Settle Turkey co-host an in-person event in İstanbul titled "We Call it Home: İstanbul Dialogues - Women's Issues" at 1900 Turkey time
Mar 18 CHP head and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu meets with HDP leaders (background)
Mar 20 Turkey recap hosts a Pre-election Q+A with Berk Esen at 1500 GMT
Mar 20 European Commission donor conference for earthquake relief in Turkey and Syria (background)
Mar 21 The European Policy Centre hosts a webinar titled “How will the earthquake impact Türkiye's elections?” At 1400 GMT
Mar 22 Turkey hosts a gas summit between gas supplier countries and Europe's consumer countries (background)
Mar 23 Central Bank announces interest rate decision
Mar 23 The Islamic holy month of Ramadan begins
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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