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Turkish elections: 'Hope springs eternal'

May 20, 2023

The results of the May 14 election were sobering for supporters of opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Now, they are hoping that he will succeed in the runoff on May 28. But this is seeming increasingly unlikely.

Headquarters of Republican People's Party in Istanbul
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk is the founder of modern Turkey Image: Valeria Ferraro/AP Photo/picture alliance

Almost a week after the elections in Turkey, those who were hoping for an outright victory for opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu are still paralyzed. He led the polls for weeks. But the outcome turned out to be different.

"I never believed the polling institutes. They are manipulated," says Ferhat, a cab driver in the Turkish capital Ankara. The 48-year-old, a devout man who prays five times a day, professes his allegiance to state founder Atatürk.

"The Islamists who surround [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan have taken over the country. They have sucked the country dry. The teachings of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk have almost disappeared," he adds, with a deep wistfulness in his voice.

'I will have to keep working'

Edip is also going on 50 and works as a porter at an upscale hotel in Ankara: He greets guests at the door and drives their vehicles into the parking lot.

"I still have a few years till retirement. But that's a long way off because I don't think that if Erdogan wins the runoff on May 28 that the economic situation will get any better. I will have to keep working. What other choice do I have?" Many people in Turkey think like him.

Sercan, a 29-year-old tall man with glasses, is an overqualified trainee in a hotel. He has a management degree and would like to work as a senior civil servant, but he can't find a position.

"I simply lack certain 'connections' that would help me get ahead," he whispers sadly, adding that he is lucky to have found a job at all. "We earn just above minimum wage," he discloses quietly, saying that he would not be able to make ends meet if it were not for the tips.

He wants to see Kilicdaroglu, whose chances are getting slimmer, win the runoff. He has a girlfriend, and they want to make plans for the future: "Hope springs eternal," he says with a smile. "That gives me confidence."

What if Erdogan loses the election?

'Erdogan should win'

In Istanbul, a large group of tourists finds refuge in the Grand Bazaar in the Old City. It is raining so hard that the ground can hardly absorb the water and the drains are completely submerged.

At the entrance to the bazaar, Hüseyin sits in front of a store. He has worked here for over 30 years: He was 12 when he started working for his uncle, who sold fake designer bags. Hüseyin is Kurdish and a big supporter of Selahattin Demirtas; the former co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) has been behind bars for seven years.

"Who did I give my vote to? The Green Left party alliance, of course. You can forget about everyone else. The ballot for the presidential candidate? I left that one blank." Hüseyin is disappointed. He says that Kilicdaroglu is a weak politician. Surprisingly, he adds that Erdogan should win the runoff: "At least Erdogan will bring tourists to us. Everything else is too uncertain."

His colleague Hacer, on the other hand, supports the opposition. "It's always the same with Hüseyin, he doesn't want to admit that the nationalists have the upper hand in parliament. And Erdogan is not to be trusted," she says, admitting openly that she voted for the Republican People's Party (CHP) and Kilicdaroglu.

Two men at the bazaar in Istanbul
Some hope that Erdogan will win as they say this would ensure stability for tourism Image: Rainer Hackenberg/dpa/picture alliance

'I actually feel very sorry for Erdogan'

Two young journalists, who prefer not to disclose their names or that of the media outlet they work for, are sitting in a patisserie eating baklava and drinking tea.

"Before the elections, everyone was so sure that Erdogan would lose that there was speculation about which department head would have to leave. But now everyone is sitting even more firmly in the saddle," they say quietly.

Even though they are being discreet, it is obvious that they work for an outlet that is close to the government. They are "fellow travellers" who would not find a job elsewhere and they try not to attract too much attention with their work.

"I actually feel very sorry for Erdogan," says one. "The man is sick. That's why I don't think he'll become even more autocratic."

His friend is not so sure, but one thing seems clear: Both assume that Erdogan will win the runoff. "Many of Kilicdaroglu's supporters will certainly not vote. And of course, that will play into Erdogan's hands," says one.

The coming days will show whether Kilicdaroglu is able to secure the votes of those who are undecided and persuade people to vote for him on May 28.

This article was translated from German.