Türkiye: Erdogan woos voters during his re-election campaign
ISTANBUL — His campaign speeches start softly, drawing in the audience. A devout Muslim, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan often says that he seeks to please not only the Turkish people, but also God. Performing in front of the crowd, he sings folk songs, recites lines from local poets or drapes the belt of the local football team over his shoulders.
He sometimes wades through the crowd of supporters for photos or greets children, who kiss his hands. Then he goes up to the podium to speak, dressed in a suit or a plaid sports jacket.
To the cheers and whistles of hundreds of transport workers at a campaign rally last week, he explained why they should keep him in power in a runoff on Sunday. He bragged about improving the country’s roads and bridges, raising wages and providing tax breaks for small businesses.
He also vowed to continue fighting forces he saw as enemies of the nation, including gay rights activists, to make Turkey “stronger in the world”. And he criticized opposition leaders seeking to overthrow him, accusing them of entering “dark rooms to sit and negotiate” with terrorists because they secured the support of the main pro- Kurdish from Turkey.
“We take refuge only in our God and we take our orders from our nation,” the president said. The crowd screamed and the men jumped to their feet chanting, “Turkey is proud of you!
Mr Erdogan, 69, emerged victorious in the toughest political fight of his career on May 14 – the first round of the presidential election. Since then, he has kept a busy schedule ahead of the final vote.
In multiple appearances a day and in speeches that sometimes last 40 minutes, he has stuck to themes that have served him well during his two decades as Turkey’s leading politician. He presents himself on the campaign trail as the leader needed to guide a rising nation struggling to fend off multiple threats so it can claim its rightful place as a world power.
In the first round of voting, Mr. Erdogan did not get the majority he needed for an outright victory. But with 49.5% of the vote, he beat his main challenger, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who won 44.9%.
Many analysts predict that Erdogan will win on Sunday given his strong performance in the first round and his subsequent endorsement by third-place candidate Sinan Ogan, who won 5.2% of the vote and was knocked out of the race.
In grandiose terms, the president portrays Turkey as in a great struggle to rise despite the forces conspiring to contain it, and he invites voters to join him in this heroic national cause.
He vows to fight “imperialists,” a code word for the West that recalls the struggle for independence from European powers that led to the founding of Turkey 100 years ago. He warns against ‘traps’ and ‘conspiracies’ against the nation, such as the 2016 coup attempt against him. He denounces ‘economic hitmen’ and ‘loan loan sharks’, alluding foreign hands behind Turkey’s economic struggles. And he castigates terrorist organizations, pointing to decades of bloody battles between the government and militants from Turkey’s Kurdish minority.
To tout his government’s achievements, he praises infrastructure, calling airports, tunnels and bridges by name and reminding voters how new highways have cut travel times between cities. Other often-cited points of pride are the drones, warships and satellites produced by Turkey’s growing defense industry.
Mr Erdogan spends little time on the country’s economic woes, including annual inflation which peaked at more than 80% last year and remained stubbornly high at 44% last month, dramatically reducing government power. purchase of ordinary citizens. Nor did he suggest that if he wins he would revise policies that some economists say have left the economy vulnerable to a possible currency crisis or recession.
The president is particularly fond of belittling his challenger, Mr Kilicdaroglu, who presented himself to voters as less imperious and more in tune with the concerns of ordinary people. Mr Kilicdaroglu promised to strengthen Turkish democracy after years of slide towards autocracy and to mend relations with the West.
In almost every speech, Mr. Erdogan dismisses his rival as incompetent and a servant of Western powers. But his strongest line of attack has been to link the opposition, in the minds of voters, to terrorism.
Turkey has been fighting for decades with Kurdish militants seeking autonomy from the state. Turkey, the United States and the European Union consider them terrorists. The Turkish government has also often accused the country’s main pro-Kurdish party of collaborating with the activists, and many party members and leaders have been imprisoned or removed from elective positions in parliament or city councils.
As the election approached, the pro-Kurdish party backed Mr. Kilicdaroglu and Mr. Erdogan pounced, hurling accusations of terrorism and even showing videos at campaign rallies that falsely showed militant leaders singing a campaign song from the opposition.
“Can my country benefit from those who rub shoulders with terrorists?” Mr Erdogan said at a rally in Hatay province, one of the areas hardest hit by February earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in southern Turkey.
For his staunchest supporters, who tend to be working class, rural, religious or small towns far from the coast, Mr Erdogan has a rock star appeal.
His campaign anthems ring out as his supporters throng stadiums to await his appearance. The orange and blue flags of his ruling Justice and Development Party often hang above his head.
During appearances in the quake-hit region, campaign organizers flooded the public with Turkish flags, turning otherwise drab stretches of temporary shelters into seas of red and white.
Mr Erdogan acknowledged some criticisms to which his government was initially slow to respond. Calling the earthquakes the “disaster of the century”, he spoke of a newly built hospital and his government’s plans to build hundreds of thousands of homes in the area next year.
“With your support and prayers, we will bring you to your new homes,” he told supporters in Hatay.
In recent appearances, Mr Erdogan has expressed his connection to voters in almost romantic terms.
“Remember, we are not together until Sunday, but until the grave,” he told supporters in the central province of Sivas, where he won more than two-thirds of the vote. in the first round.
Even opposition supporters recognize Mr. Erdogan’s strong bond with his constituents.
“He’s been in power for a very long time and he’s very good at getting a message across,” said Gulfem Saydan Sanver, a Turkish political consultant who has advised opposition members. “Over the years, he’s built trust with his constituents, and they believe everything he says.”