Monday, August 4, 2014

Erdogan, Erdogan all around: Turkey's campaign season

Campaign season is in full mode in Turkey, which is set to vote on its next president August 10. There is not much suspense over the result-- presently Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erodgan will be president. Erdogan, who has been prime minister for the last eight years, looks set to pull a Putin-Medvedev.

Does that logo look familiar to anyone? Yes, we can. 
Visiting Istanbul over eid, the city was covered in huge Erdogan posters. Erdogan's image loomed over ancient aqueducts, over Taxim, along highways. You could not escape him. His publicly financed campaign rallies made headlines, his voice screamed from television screens. He even played in a football (soccer) match at the opening of an Istanbul stadium. The crowds roared as he scored goal after goal.

There were smaller posters seen for his opponent whats-his-face. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu's lack of a chance of winning is evident in the lack of airtime he his given. In the fact his image is unseen in Taxim. In the fact that he does not make crowds roar. His campaign rallies were poorly covered, with low public visibility.

The good "Profesor Doktor"

Ihsanoglu is a technocrat. He's had a successful career in diplomacy. He has little standing in domestic politics. He's got the hopes of a fragmented opposition resting on his distinguished, internationally-respected shoulders (remind you of anyone, Mohamed El Baradei?) I cringed when I saw one of his few campaign posters around--he called himself "Professor Doctor." Again similar to El Baradei's perceived elitism. Does the Turkish street care if someone is a "professor doctor?" Do they identify with "professor doctors?" Do they feel represented by "professor doctors?" My intuition is the answer to all these questions is a resounding "no."

Is Erdogan breaking the law? Campaign-wise, probably not. But that's not the point. You can follow the letter of the law and flagrantly ignore its spirit. You can have an unrigged election produce an undemocratic result when the cards are so obviously stacked against the opposition. Without breaking the law, without becoming a formal dictatorship, you can marginalize the opposition, squeeze them from the public sphere and secure your own position.

Before this year, I criticized my Egyptian friends for boycotting elections. This is why you guys aren't being represented, I said. You have to make change from within. You have to be in parliament, have to make yourself heard. You need an agenda and need to get into grassroots organizing.

But after this year... what's the point? Your voice will not be heard. There is no campaign rigging, but there does not need to be. There is no space for opposition. You're with us or against us. You're for a new Turkey or for a return to the past. Opposition figures are given less airtime. Their images and campaign materials are minimal or absent. The city is plastered by the image of the preferred candidate. Those who dare campaign for an opposite result face harassment and arrest. And perhaps most worringly, few see a problem with that.

I ask again, what's the point?

Is participating giving legitimacy to a sham? Or is it refusing to be marginalized? 

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