President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who won the May 14 elections, built his second-round campaign around the inclusive motto of “Türkiye’s Great Victory.” In line with his “balcony” speech on election night, that campaign signals that the entire country – except terrorists – will win on Sunday. In truth, this is Erdoğan’s way of inviting the supporters of all parties to help build the “Century of Türkiye” over the next five years.
The incumbent, who built his first-round campaign around “native-national” considerations, successfully connected with nationalist voters. In doing so, Erdoğan not only highlighted the PKK and the Gülenist Terror Group’s (FETÖ) endorsement of his opponent, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. He also used the defense industry’s accomplishments, together with his administration’s diplomatic and counterterrorism achievements, to appeal to the relevant voters positively. What complemented that positive national identity was the popular concern over an opposition victory encouraging terrorist organizations.
The first round’s loser, Kılıçdaroğlu, launched his second-round campaign with very strong statements. The main opposition leader, portrayed as calm and powerful, used to make a “heart” gesture with his hands to offer his love to everyone. This time around, he emerged as a fierce politician pledging to win at all costs, hitting his desk on camera and threatening to scratch people’s eyes out.
In an attempt to win over Sinan Oğan and Turkish nationalists – including parts of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Good Party (IP) base – the main opposition leader turned to far-right arguments. His emphasis on “the homeland, morality and conscience” enables him to use strongly nationalist language and accuse Erdoğan of supposedly “negotiating with terrorists” with reference to the reconciliation process. Furthermore, Kılıçdaroğlu identifies Syrian asylum seekers as “the other” in his base’s eyes, claiming there are 10 million irregular migrants in Türkiye, and pledges to deport them immediately. He adds that Erdoğan will bring in “10 million more asylum seekers” if he remains in power. He also holds the government responsible for all ills including misogyny.
Accordingly, Kılıçdaroğlu presses all ideological buttons in an attempt to portray Sunday’s vote as a completely new election. In addition to using very strong language, he encourages 1 million citizens to vote in a distinctively provocative manner.
Recalling that the opposition falsely claimed to lead the race on the night of May 14, 2023, and proceeded to make unfounded allegations of election fraud, it appears that CHP and its chairperson would like to translate the “neighborhood pressure” on social media to polling stations. Seeking to crush dissent within his party and alliance and trying to fire up his supporters, Kılıçdaroğlu places at risk election security and fuels tensions between social groups.
The obvious reason why Kılıçdaroğlu turned to this far-right discourse is the defining role that nationalist voters might play in the second round. He seems to believe that he can keep the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in his corner by building a nationalist platform around the idea of “homeland.” Ironically, the memory of the PKK’s endorsement is too fresh and impossible to forget.
Could Kılıçdaroğlu’s strong language erase the memory of the presidential election’s first round and transform Sunday’s vote into a completely new election? That is an extremely tall order.
Could he mobilize his disappointed base anew? I’d argue that he might end up losing what he already has in hand, as some center-right and conservative voters, not to mention HDP supporters, could go another way.
The opposition tackled the incumbent’s main strength, counterterrorism, aggressively but that casts a shadow on their first-round campaign – which got them 45%. I find it odd that they would think that they won’t face any backlash over this change in direction.
It goes without saying that alliances must encourage and motivate voters to participate in the second round. As the CHP prepares for election day with an ideologically-charged group, the People’s Alliance needs to avoid any distractions and mobilize its base properly. Sunday’s vote will boil down to getting out the vote and ensuring the accuracy of the results.
In this article
- 14 May 2023 Turkish General Election
- 14th May 2023 Türkiye's General Election Results
- 2023 Turkish General Elections Presidential Candidates
- 2023 Turkish Presidential Election
- Daily Sabah
- Fethullah Terrorist Organization (FETÖ)
- Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu
- Kurdistan Workers' Party Terrorist Organization (PKK)
- Recep Tayyip Erdoğan
- Sinan Oğan
- Türkiye's 2023 Elections
- Türkiye's Justice and Development Party | AK Party (AK Parti)
- Türkiye's Republican People's Party (CHP)