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‘This Country Could Move to Radical Islam Like Iran’

Angelo Calianno spoke to supporters of the Turkish opposition during the two ballots in the closely fought Presidential election against Recep Erdoğan

Supporters of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu during the recent presidential elections. Photo: Angelo Calianno

‘This Country Could Move to Radical Islam Like Iran’

Angelo Calianno spoke to supporters of the Turkish opposition during the two ballots in the closely fought Presidential election against Recep Erdoğan

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First Round of Voting, 14 May

11:00 am in the ‘Besiktas’ Area of Istanbul

Polls opened a few hours ago to elect Turkey’s new president. After 20 years of Recep Erdoğan’s overwhelming power, things could change today. The two candidates, standing against the incumbent president are 74-year-old Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, representing the left, with a liberal and inclusive vision of all ethnic groups in Turkey, and Sinan Oğan, a member of the extreme right-wing ATA Alliance.

The Besiktas neighbourhood has always been one of the most hostile to Erdogan. Police and military guard every corner, almost all the streets have been closed and the main square cordoned off. Tensions are high and there are fears, whatever the outcome may be, of clashes between supporters of the two main candidates.

Supporters of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in Besiktas district. Photo: Angelo Calianno.

A group of elders give us a “v” sign, for victory. “Today is the day when democracy will triumph again”, one of them told Byline Times: “We need to establish peace between all of us: Christians, Kurds, Muslims. This country has been under Erdogan’s rule for too long, today is the day of change.” 

But if Kılıçdaroğlu wins, will the Kılıçdaroğlu supporters go on the streets and celebrate? “That’s a difficult one,” he tells Byline Times.“I can’t answer you, we will certainly celebrate, but in our homes. Many of Erdoğan’s supporters are violent, in the street, it could be very dangerous”.

The polling stations are filled with volunteers who support Kılıçdaroğlu, nicknamed ‘Dedem’ (my grandad, in Turkish) by younger voters. “We are here to check that everything runs smoothly,” they tell Byline Times. “We are afraid that there will be some kind of fraud, fake voter cards or other cards that could be taken away. We will not leave here until all votes have been registered”.

3:00 pm, Kadikoy  

Kadikoy is one of the districts populated by the young artists and activists of Istanbul; here, too, everyone supports Kılıçdaroğlu. In a few hours, the polls will close; people express their hopes and fears, in the alleys, in the cafes, and near the port, people only talk about what will happen tonight.

A group of young people makes a heart sign with their hands, a distinctive symbol of Kılıçdaroğlu voters. “I am not sure he can win”, one of the boys tells us.

Young people in Kadikoy making the heart symbol of Kılıçdaroğlu campaign. Photo: Angelo Calianno

“I hope so, but Turkey is really split down the middle,” he continues. “We often talk among ourselves about what might happen if Erdoğan wins, and I think that many of us would leave. Erdoğan has turned this country into a cheap labour pool. We feel like a kind of factory where Turks work, underpaid, to produce products for the West. But young Turks are educated and capable; we also want the rights we deserve.”

“Some of us are concerned that if Erdoğan is re-appointed, the country could move towards a radical Islamization like Iran,” he adds.

Outside one of the polling stations in this district, we talked to Omer Faruk, strolling nervously outside the courtroom where he voted.

The writer Omer Faruk outside a polling station. Photo: Angelo Calianno

“I’m here to check that everything runs as it should, as I doubt it will. I would very much like there to be a change. Let me tell you, however, that even if Kılıçdaroğlu wins, it would be by a margin of a few votes,” Omer, a Turkish writer and publisher told Byline Times.

“This nation needs a change in culture, in mentality,” he continued. “We could change president but, 50% of the voters voting for Erdoğan is too much for a country that wants to consider itself free and advanced. Too many people are still slaves to religion.”

Who are Erdoğan’s voters? They are easy to find in Istanbul; they can be found in the neighbourhoods he himself helped restore, especially those with a strong religious presence, such as the predominantly Muslim and very conservative Fatih neighbourhood. 

‘in the Fatih quarter of Istanbul. Photo: Angelo Calianno

Many of the other supporters are wealthy businessmen who, taking advantage of an extremely corrupt political system, are able to obtain building permits and do business simply by handing out bribes. A third group of voters are those who “sell” their votes, in exchange for small personal favours.

Taksim, 10:00 pm.

After the results are announced in one of the city’s main squares there are very few people and the calm is almost unreal. Near the mosque, some of Erdogan’s supporters cheer, and Kılıçdaroğlu’s supporters lower their heads in disappointment. No one got 5% of the vote. Erdoğan closed the polls with just over 49%,  Kılıçdaroğlu at 44% and Oğan, just above 5%.In two weeks’ time, it’s back to the ballot.

Run-Off Vote, 28 May

10:00am, Sultanahmet district

The last days of the electoral campaign have been fiery: Erdoğan has publicly accused Kılıçdaroğlu of supporting PKK terrorists. Oğan, who dropped out of the runoff, asked his constituents to vote for Erdoğan, while his party, the ATA Alliance, has turned its back on him by asking them to vote for Kılıçdaroğlu.

1:00 pm Kadikoy

A group of Erdoğan supporters stormed one of the schools used as a voting station, vandalizing it. The aim is to discourage attendance at the polls, and – unfortunately –  the plan seems to be working. There are fewer voters than the very high percentage of the first round, about 10% fewer.

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7:00 pm

75% of the vote has been cast; Erdoğan is ahead with 52%. From the presidential palace in Ankara, he is already announcing his victory.

Taksim Square

It is now night when the last hopes of change for Turkey have been extinguished. Some youngsters fold up flags depicting Kılıçdaroğlu’s face, and cameramen and reporters close the link to the main TV stations: The country remains in the hands of Erdoğan, who won with 52.14%.

At the press conference, Kılıçdaroğlu says: “I have a request to you, to all of you: keep the struggle for democracy alive.  Alive for you, for your children, for your mothers and fathers, for pensioners, for farmers and traders. We have lived through the most unfair elections in recent years: all the means of the state have been mobilized for one party; all possibilities lay at the feet of one man”.

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