Turkish century: History looms large on election day

Istanbul ̵1; from the Aegean coast to the mountain border with Iran, millions of turks will vote President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his main rival Kemal Kilikdaroglu both warned the country was at a historic turning point – in the country’s 191,884 ballot boxes on Sunday.

In the last of an extremely close electoral race, the dueling candidates have drawn heavily on the historical resonance of the vote that fell exactly 100 years after Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the secular Turkish Republic in 1923.

In the Istanbul district of Umraniye on the last day of campaigning, Erdogan told voters that the country was “on the threshold of a Türkiye CentenaryIt will be “the century of our children, our youth, our women”.

Erdogan’s talk of the Turkish century is partly a pledge to make the country stronger and more technologically independent, particularly in the defense sector. In the past months, the President has shown himself a domestically produced Tog electric car, “Kan” fighter jet and anadoluIndia’s first aircraft carrier.

But Erdogan’s Turkish century is much more than domestic planes and ships. Some suspect that Erdoğan sees 2023 as a key threshold to accelerate his push away from Ataturk’s secular legacy and toward a more religiously conservative nation. In fact, his campaign has been characterized by a heavy emphasis on family values ​​and scathing rhetoric against the LGBTQ+ community.

The state that Atatürk created from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire in 1923 was secular and modern, often along Western models, introducing Latin letters and even banning the fez in favor of Western-style headgear. Together. In this regard, Islamist populist Erdogan is miles away from ballroom-dancing, raki-quaifing Field Marshal Ataturk.

The 2023 election is widely being hailed as a decisive referendum on which vision for Turkey will win, and Erdoğan is keen to portray the opposition as selling out to the West and global financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund. Are. “Are you ready to bury those who promised the country’s values ​​to foreigners and moneylenders at the ballot box?” He called the crowd to Umraniya.

This is not someone who is presenting himself as an ally of the West. Resisting pressure that Ankara should not align so much with the Kremlin, Erdogan said on Friday he would “not accept” the opposition’s attacks on Russian President Vladimir Putin – after Kılıçdaroğlu complained of Russian interference in the election .

Revealing he ended his campaign at the Hagia Sophia – once the largest church in Constantinople – which he converted from a museum back to a mosque, as it had been during Ottoman times.

all about ataturk

In contrast, Erdogan’s main rival Kılıçdaroğlu is seeking to take full command of Ataturk, stressing the need to return the country to European democratic norms after Erdogan’s slide towards authoritarianism.

Speaking from a rain-soaked stage in Ankara on Friday night, the 74-year-old bureaucrat declared: “We are all Turkey for Mustafa Kemal’s [Atatürk’s] turkey!”

In his speech, he slammed Erdogan for giving Turkey over to crony networks of drug lords and elite construction bosses, saying there was no place for “robbers” in the country. Symbolically, he reprimanded the president to rule from his 1,150-room presidential complex – dubbed Palace or palace – and said he would rule from the more modest Chanakya mansion used by Ataturk for his presidency.

Warming up to his theme of Turkey’s “second century”, Kılıçdaroğlu posted a video in the early hours of Saturday morning, urging youth to fully embrace the founding fathers’ vision. After all, he comes from the part of the CHP founded by Ataturk.

“Youths, we are entering the second century. And now we have a new generation, we have you. We have to decide completely: will we be among those who only remember Ataturk – as in the first century – or those who understand him in this century? This generation will belong to those who understand,” he said, speaking in his trademark grandfatherly tone from his book-lined study.

In complete opposition to Erdogan, who has detained opponents and wields enormous influence over the judiciary and the media, Kılıçdaroğlu is insisting he will press Turkey to adopt the reforms needed to move toward EU membership.

Asked by POLITICO whether this could backfire because some hostile EU countries would always block Turkey’s membership, he said the reforms themselves were the most important element for Turkey’s future.

“It doesn’t matter whether the European Union joins us or not. What matters is bringing all the democratic standards that the European Union expects to our country, ”he said in an exclusive interview on the sidelines of a rally in the central city of Sivas. “We are part of the Western civilization. So whether the European Union accepts us or not, we will bring those democratic standards. The European Union needs Turkey.

off to vote

Vote centers – which are set up in public schools – open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. on Election Day.

The mood is cautious, with rumors swirling that internet access could be restricted or trouble in the streets if the result is disputed.

Reports of possible military or government involvement in the voting process only fueled fears of trouble.

Two days before the election, the CHP accused Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu of rigging the election. The main opposition party said Soylu had met with governors on election night to seek the military’s support. Soylu made no public response.

Turkey’s Supreme Election Council (YSK) has rejected the Interior Ministry’s request to collect and store election results on its own database. YSK also prohibited the police and gendarmerie from collecting election results.

Erdoğan himself tried to downplay any fears of a stolen election. In front of a studio audience of young people on Friday, he dismissed as “ridiculous” the suggestion that he could not leave office if he is defeated. “We came to power in Turkey through democratic means and courtesy of the people. If they make a different decision that democracy requires then we will do it,” said the unusually lean-looking president, perhaps still battling what his party said during the campaign was a bout of gastroenteritis.

The opposition is pledging to keep a close watch on all polling stations to try to prevent any fraud.

At Esenyurt Cumhuriyet Square in the European part of Istanbul, a group of high-school students gathered on Saturday morning to congratulate Istanbul’s popular mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, who will be one of Kılıçdaroğlu’s vice presidents, for winning.

Ilayda, 18, said she would vote for the opposition because of its position on democracy, justice and women’s rights.

When asked what would happen if Erdogan won, he replied: “We plan to start a deep mourning. Our country as we know it will no longer exist.