Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections, held on May 14 and May 28 and regarded as existential, are taking place under high tension and anxiety. In the absence of an independent media or reliable polling companies, crucial information has been kept from the citizens of Turkey who will go to the polls Sunday.
The acrimony has increased as Erdoğan’s camp inches closer to victory, the more so because his alliance has gained a majority in Parliament. Filled with frustration and suspicions of fraud, the opposition Nation Alliance has become bitter and started blaming various scapegoats.
The most recent scapegoat is KONDA, one of the oldest polling companies in Turkey. KONDA has consistently performed well—even when its findings are incorrect, its methods are transparent. Traditionally KONDA always publishes its surveys in the last Thursday before any election and referendum.
But this time, KONDA found itself the target of criticism when it found that Erdoğan was leading by 52.7 % against Kılıçdaroğlu’s 47.3 %. These figures caused led opposition figures—including academics—to argue that “given the fluidity of the situation, KONDA should not publish these findings at all.” Some went further, calling Bekir Ağırdır, KONDA’s head, “irresponsible” and “lacking conscience”.
Ağırdır’s response, published by Gazete Oksijen, is translated and reprinted in a shortened form below:
Research is a matter of scientific measurement. Like any scientific method, there are many factors involved in finding results, but the goal is always to be successful in every measurement.
During my 17 years of active management at KONDA, and my last year as a member of the board of directors, I have experienced both the pleasure of successes and the embarrassment of mistakes. What is right and wrong in the latest research will be evaluated by KONDA once the election process is over, and our subscribers and the public will be informed.
I believe that it is natural for me to be criticized by everyone who reads and watches, especially politicians, as much as I myself criticize politicians. In this context, I have never entered into a polemic with political actors so far, nor will I do so.
On the other hand, I am also aware that we are at a time when personal accusations and targeting—for the sake of political career or political and economic interests—have become normalized.
Unfortunately, I think that political figures and thought leaders, whose duty it is to strengthen the common ideals of society, are instead degrading those ideals.
Regardless, it is necessary to discuss voter behavior: whether voting preferences are parallel to social change, and which dynamics, discourses, and promises affected the election outcome.
Some talking points:
One of the unique features of this election process was the involvement of political actors, along with the established order with all its power. There has always been partisanship, but this time it was more than just partisan positions and intensity.
All the extensions of the ruling coalition—with its judiciary, security forces, religious officials, and bureaucracy—were actively involved on the ground.
I believe that the state apparatus was motivated by a “security perception” that went beyond Erdoğan’s winning the elections: It was as if the possible constellation of parliament and politics, that might make possible a negotiation and reconciliation with the Kurdish was a driving factor. A significant part of the electorate bought the narrative.
Once again we have seen that democratization, even the separation of powers, cannot be achieved without a politics that balances the Turkish need for security with the Kurdish need for identity.
We have in fact already seen this paradox play out within the People’s and Nation Alliances.
On the other hand, this stalemate points to the necessity for the Kurdish political movement to think through its position, politics, and discourse with a critical eye.
Another thesis that has been widely discussed in the aftermath of the first round, fueled in part by the compression of the Kurdish issue and the HDP into the bracket of “terrorism,” is the rise of nationalism, and the question of whether we are facing a new type of nationalism.
According to research, nationalism in Turkish society is not monopolized by one party’s voters. On the contrary, nationalism is more than an ideology or idea—it is a widespread state of feeling.
This is because nationalism is engraved by the state through both education and law. This indoctrination is justified and supportive by narratives of a strong state, strengthened by enthusiasm for military technology, and monitored by law.
Nationalism in Turkey is shaped by the ebb and flow of security needs and the demand for a “strong state.” When insecurity about the future is high, the state is expected to be strong. However, when peace and trust in the atmosphere of the country is stronger, demands for economic welfare or a humane society take precedence over demands for a strong state.
When we look at the political actors and the state/citizen axis, we see that almost all parties are “statist.” In this context, nationalism is not the purview of a single party, and nationalist votes are not only in the ruling bloc parties.
Moreover, nationalism is a view towards and against the “outside;” it is based on glorifying your own country, society and race, but it is also shaped by differences within the country. This seemingly paradoxical situation is shaped more by “lumpenisation” and resentment against others inside rather than the rise of nationalism. This is what feeds populism.
Perhaps one of the most important assumptions of the opposition and its leader Kılıçdaroğlu is that he thinks that he can overcome this tendency with more populism. On Sunday evening, we will see which candidate the nationalist element finds more convincing.
Today, we can say the following: there is no social pressure forcing political actors and structures to change.
The election results were determined not by changing needs and demands, but by emotions and especially by negative feelings towards the different parties. There were almost no voter shifts between the three political alliances of Turkey.
There were also no huge leaps in the total votes for each alliance, but there are traces of change regarding local and regional turnout rates. There were mostly voter shifts between parties within the alliances.
Numerically and proportionally, the main distribution in the 2017 referendum, 2018 general elections, and 2019 local elections remained almost unchanged in the 2023 elections.
There has been an uninterrupted economic depression, pandemic, and earthquake in the intervening 6 years. From this point of view, the theory that voters make decisions based on their pocketbooks, and vote based on economic promises, has collapsed.
Still, the Ak Party has lost seven points. We might say that the voters’ loyalty and trust in the Ak Party has decreased, but their loyalty and trust in Erdoğan remains.
Emotions rather than realities were decisive, and pro-government voters thought about the risks and opportunities in their individual lives. However, it was the common concerns, fears, and search for security rather than any individual expectations or concerns that determined his/her preference.
Again, the turnout rate in the second round is an important parameter. People’s desire to go to the polls will be important.
We must think through these issues independently of the second round results—and in a rational manner. It seems likely that many intra-party debates will arise after these elections. Perhaps the change of parties and political culture might be fueled by this process of rational thinking.
This article was originally published in Turkish by Gazete Oksijen and has been translated by FTP.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not belong to the Free Turkish Press.