«It is time for a change. Either good or bad, something needs to change». Ulas Yldiz is 27 years old and the only government he has seen in his life is that of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. «Erdogan stole my teenager times from me. I’ve lost many friends in the protests and even my mental health».
On Sunday, 14 May, citizens in Turkey are called upon to elect Parliament and the next President. For many, this date, which comes in the centenary year of the birth of the Turkish state from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, will act as a watershed for Turkey’s history. On the one hand a president who has held power in the country for more than 20 years, taking on an increasingly authoritarian connotation, or the victory of a very diverse opposition united for the first time under a single candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in the name of freedom and justice.
Today, Turkey is facing the economic and humanitarian consequences of the earthquake of 6 February, the most devastating in its modern history, which struck ten provinces bordering Syria and left more than 50,000 dead and 3.3 million displaced. The economic consequences of this tragedy have been estimated by the Ankara government at around 15 million, corresponding to 9.8% of the national Gdp.
«I’ve lost 12 people from my family and friends during the earthquake. My dad is from Adana which is one of the main cities of the earthquake. It was really bad. I was in Hatay for a month to help to people. It was like an apocalypse, something that I could never imagine, somethings that I could never forget».
«Erdogan and his party won the elections after 1999 earthquake in Turkey. So this is a sign now: they lost power. They did not do anything in the earthquake areas which I saw by my eyes. They even used it as a propaganda method. In the media and press it says 55.000 death. Only me took out 452 dead bodies out from the buildings. There are millions of people who got affected and minimum 700.000 people who died. Still today – a good three months later- people are still looking for food and water living in the tents in the area».
The tragic consequences of the earthquake led to disaffection with the incumbent president, which was followed by street and online protests. In fact, it was the failure to comply with the building regulations approved in the country following the 1999 earthquake, which had affected the capital Istanbul causing over 17.000 casualties, that added to the toll of devastation.
The harsh consequences of the earthquake, both from a social and economic point of view, are part of an already fragile economic context in Turkey. Against the backdrop of this tragedy, a heated election campaign has developed that seems to have taken the shape of a vote for or against President Erdogan.
Indeed, the party of the outgoing president, the Justice and Development Party (Akp), is challenging Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (Chp), presented as the sole candidate of the opposition parties. In early March, the oppositions came together, in what was called “The Table of Six”, and chose a single candidate to challenge the outgoing president. Kilicdaroglu, a well-liked and popular politician but considered uncharismatic, is 74 years old and has been the leader of the Chp for 15 years.
The rallies held by both of them were attended by hundreds of thousands of people, confirming the great attention of Turkish citizens ahead of the presidential elections, considered among the most important and hard-fought in recent decades. During his street speeches, Erdogan repeatedly pointed to Kilicdarogluc as the puppet of the West, promising to destroy him with this Sunday’s vote. His opponent, on the other hand, taking the stage in the Izmir square with his wife Selvi, made only one promise to the million people listening to him: «These are elections in which we will have to rebuild democracy».
«His opponent, Kilicdaroglu, is the only one who can be the opponent. Not the best or the strongest. The reason behind this is the people who are voting in Turkey looks at few things like religion, ethnic background, economical stuff etc. and Kilicdaroglu is the most neutral one to all of it. He says let there be Kurds but also he talks from a nationalist place. Or he says he is muslim and he prays but he shows his respect to other religions. So he is probably the only one who could get votes from different groups of the community».
«I feel that this is the first time Erdogan could lose. During the Gezi protests I felt the same, but it was more of a guerrilla-style situation, whereas this time I feel it more rationally», Ulas commented. «Erdogan must lose, but I don’t think he will leave peacefully and quietly. He will do all the damage he can as he leaves. All my friends are telling each other to go to a summer house after the elections because all his illegal group will be on the streets and will definitely be armed».
This fear is borne out by the facts: in 2019 the Akp had lost municipal elections in three Turkish cities, including Istanbul, and Erdogan, through pressure on the Supreme Electoral Commission, annulled the vote. Just as well known are the numerous coups that have taken place in recent decades, behind which, many believe, is the hand of the President himself, with the aim of strengthening his power and presenting himself to the people as a victim and at the same time the last bastion and true defender of democracy.
«Kilicdaroglu must win. There is no other way», Ulas concluded. «Whoever is against Erdogan has to win, and I think it will happen. I think it is the end of his time. But if something happens and the Akp remains in government, many people I know will flee Turkey and I will too. After everything that has happened if Erdogan wins again there is really no point in working and fighting for this country anymore. Another 4-5 years with Erdogan means a further deterioration for Turkey, he wants to bring the Islamic regime and I will not be here if that happens. I have fought all my life against this regime and he will lose».