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Our View: Will Turks vote for Erdogan’s authoritarianism?

file photo: turkish president erdogan holds an election rally in ankara
File Photo: Erdogan addresses his supporters during a rally ahead of the May 14 presidential elections

It is astonishing that the candidate of the six-party Nation Alliance, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, is only marginally ahead of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan ahead of Sunday’s elections in Turkey. The last few years of Erdogan’s term would have finished most political careers, but the fact that he could still be re-elected is testimony to his popularity and resilience. His suppression of free speech and control over most media may have also played a part in maintaining his support among the population.

Turks have become poorer because of his disastrous management of the economy, his insistence on keeping interest rates low, causing the inflation rate to climb to 80 per cent last year, it is forecast to reach 50 per cent this year. Meanwhile the Turkish Lira has lost four fifths of its value against the dollar. More than two thirds of Turks were struggling to pay for food and cover their rent reported a survey published at the end of last year, and the situation has not improved in the last few months.

Politically, he has established an authoritarian regime concentrating all power in the presidency that controls the judiciary and media, does not tolerate criticism, shuts down news media, puts critics in prison – Turkey has the second highest incarceration rate in the Council of Europe after Russia – while championing religious and conservative values. Since 2010, Turkey’s press freedom ranking has gone down from 138 to 165 out of 180 countries. Despite all this – and the excesses – such as his 1,000-room palace outside Ankara, Erdogan remains popular and could still be re-elected.

presidential candidate kemal kilicdaroglu holds a rally ahead of presidential elections, in bursa
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, presidential candidate of Turkey’s main opposition alliance

Could this be attributed to Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant, who has led the Republican People’s Party for ten years but is said to be lacking in charisma? Kilicdaroglu has adopted a more pro-Western stance, countering Erdogan’s anti-US rhetoric and has avoided his rival’s confrontational approach towards neighbouring countries such as Greece, Cyprus, and Syria. He has also pledged to restore the central bank’s independence, scrap the executive presidency and return power to parliament; he has also said he would send the Syrian refugees back to their country.

The US, which has become one of Erdogan’s main targets as he continues to strengthen ties with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, maybe pinning its hopes on Kilincdaroglu who has promised to improve relations with the West, but political analysts do not expect a major change in the stance towards Moscow. Turkey’s trade with Russia has increased 110 per cent since the start of the war in Ukraine and is unlikely to jeopardiseit, in these difficult economic times, whoever wins the elections. Kilincdaroglu has not even signalled he would give up the S400 missile defence system that has soured relations with the US.

After 20 years in power, Turkey could do with change, because there is the danger that Erdogan’s re-election would put out the last embers of democracy remaining in the country.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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