Skip to content

Passenger boats from Istanbul’s Asian and European sides on the Bosphorus Strait are fighting for hearing supremacy at the Kadıköy Ferry Terminal.

Kemal Kilidaroglu, the opposition candidate for Turkey’s 2023 presidential election, promised to solve all the problems plaguing the country today on a giant screen mounted on a truck by the waterfront. The economy collapsed, rights and freedoms were suppressed, the “politics of negativity” divided the nation and grew.

Passengers watch a campaign clip of Kemal Kilidaroglu at the Kadikoy ferry port in Istanbul. © Lila Jacinto, France 24

A few meters away, the tent of the ruling AKP (Justice and Development Party) is loudly selling their candidate, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The speakers here are blasting out a brisk, catchy campaign tune. “Once, and again… vote for Riek Machar,” blasts the sound system as flag-waving supporters hold the baton in their hands.

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gather at a campaign tent on the Kadıköy waterfront in Istanbul. © Lila Jacinto, France 24

The city is home to two continents, with two candidates running in Turkey’s first presidential election on Sunday, May 28, 2010. The contest comes after Erdogan fell just 0.5 percent short of 50 percent of the vote in the first round. It is required for victory.

It was a surprisingly strong showing from the man who has led Turkey for two decades, overcoming an economic crisis and government neglect following a devastating earthquake earlier this year.

The opposition focused on Turkey’s wallet, following the usual American campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

But it wasn’t. In the end, emotions trumped economics.

Kilidaroglu’s signature campaign video showed the septuagenarian candidate at the kitchen table crying over the rise in onion prices.

The high-profile campaign in power saw the president assist in the inauguration of a warship TGC AnadoluAt the port of Istanbul. “We see this ship as a sign that will strengthen our position as an assertive country in the world,” Erdogan said at the inauguration ceremony on April 23.

Symbolism is the driving force behind Erdogan’s stratospheric rise to power and his continued pursuit of it despite the odds. Their mix of rhetoric of nationalism, Islamic heroism, religious heritage and historical references has softened political opposition in the past and seems poised to do so again.

To do this, Erdogan always has Istanbul.

Taking advantage of Istanbul’s rich history

It was as mayor of Istanbul that Erdogan was briefly jailed for referencing banned Turkish nationalist lyrics during the Ottoman era, a victim narrative that stunned his supporters.

More than a quarter of a century later, Erdogan faces his first presidential election on a day of indelible historical significance for Turks.

On May 28, 1453, Sultan Mehmed II breached the mighty walls of the Byzantine capital and launched the final assault on Constantinople. The next day, the city of world interest, which had not been controlled for a thousand years, fell under Ottoman control.

If Erdogan wins the second round on Sunday, May 28, the president’s office announced that he will be in Istanbul the day after the election. 570 will be the markTh Victory Day of Constantinople.

‘I choose a brave leader’

Erdogan’s political career in the city of birth, Istanbul – as residents call themselves – is starting to look like it’s over just days before Erdogan’s re-election vote on Sunday.

For those suffering from the economic crisis, but planning to vote for Erdogan anyway, there is a distinct lack of joy, but a certain sense of continued comfort.

Sitting on a park bench in the conservative Istanbul district of Fatih on the Bosphorus, Hussein Polat resigned over the country’s future.

“I was upset, I was very worried about my financial situation and I didn’t want to vote in the first round. “But in the end I voted, and I voted for Erdogan,” said Polat, throwing a handful of wheat grains to a flock of pigeons.

At 64, Polat’s economic prospects look bleak after 50 years of working in shoe repair shops and tea stalls. “I can’t make ends meet, the cost of even basic things has gone up. Now I am 64 years old and no one wants to give me a job. Life is very difficult these days.

Hüseyin Polat takes a break from feeding pigeons in a park in Fatih Istanbul. © Lila Jacinto, France 24

Despite the economic crisis, Polat did not vote for change at the ballot box because he said he did not know much about Kilıdaroğlu’s policy platform.

“I really don’t understand other people’s feelings,” Polat said, referring to Kilidaroglu.

It is common among older Turkish voters who get most of their news from television channels following years of pressure on the press by the Erdogan administration.

Erdogan in April It had exactly 60 times more coverage on the TRT Haber public TV station. (TRT News) than its main competitor, according to Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF). Kilidaroglu received 32 minutes, RSF said, citing unnamed sources Broadcasting Supreme Council of Turkey (RTUK). “In other words, a public TV station is not just like a state TV station, it is siding with one candidate,” the NGO reported.

Although he said he had no idea about Kilıdaroğlu’s platform, Polat said he was confident Erdoğan had more leadership skills than his rival. “Erdoğan has more courage than Kilıdaroğlu. I don’t believe in Kilidaroglu’s promises. I prefer an honest and courageous leader. With Erdogan, he built bridges and mosques even though we had problems with him. “I am a nationalist, and I will vote for the person who is good for the country,” insisted Polat.

Taking a ferry from Istanbul Europe to Kadıköy, on the Asian side, Ahmet Alton, a retired civil servant, said he had benefited from Erdogan’s decision to increase pensions by 2,000 liras ($100) in late March.

“The opposition is not to be trusted,” Alton said. “You can make all the promises you like. I don’t believe you can keep them,” he concluded.

Men, women and veils again

While Erdogan’s supporters felt free to express their beliefs against the opposition, the same was not the case for many of Kilıdaroğlu’s supporters.

Sitting on a bench waiting for the boat, watching the sun set, the 30-year-old architect from Istanbul’s Uskudar district agreed to speak on condition of anonymity and gave her name as Zeinab Belgin.

“I support Kilıdaroğlu, but if I declare publicly, and Erdogan wins, and if I apply for a job and do a background check, they will know that I am a CHP supporter. Then I will have a problem getting a job,” she said, referring to Kilidaroglu’s secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Following his shock victory in the May 14 Kurdish parliamentary elections, Biljin’s main election issue is women’s rights. Conservative Free Reason Party (Huda-Par).

After a fringe party shunned its ties to a Kurdish Islamist militant group active in the 1990s, Huda-Par has sided with the ruling AKP in the 2023 elections. The coalition has won four seats in Turkey’s 600-member parliament, raising concerns among women’s rights activists.

The Islamic party has called for the repeal of laws that provide protection for victims of domestic violence He said women’s working conditions should be revised to “suit their nature”.

For Bilgin, the rise of parties like Huda-Par means the backsliding of women’s rights in Turkey. “In the West, people are talking about AI and ChatGPT. In Turkey, we are still talking about the veil and religion and 1453,” she said, referring to the year of the conquest of Constantinople.