June 06, 2023

Turkish elections: victory for ultranationalism and paternalism

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Recep Tayyip Erdoğan re-elected president in Turkey for the 3rd time: What does this victory reveal? And what are the consequences for Turkish society?

Turkish elections: victory for ultranationalism and paternalism

In this year celebrating the 100thanniversary of the founding of the Turkish Republic, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is elected president of the country for the third time with more than 52% of the vote. Perched on the roof of a bus parked in front of his residence in Istanbul (and not from the balcony of the AKP HQ), his speech in front of his loyal voters is a symbol: he rises not as the leader of the Party but as the providential man who pursues his authoritarian policy1 for more than 20 years, in a deeply divided country.

Focus on the results of these elections where his interpretation of nationalism reflects the Turkish hierarchical structure around the figure of the “strong man”.

Behind this victory, which defies all odds, is undoubtedly that of nationalism. Primary value, enshrined in article 2 of the Constitution since 1924 2, nationalism appears during this double election – that of the Parliament (or Grand National Assembly of Turkey) and that of the president – ​​as the common vector of all the candidate Parties . Each of the main coalitions (that of the presidential camp and that of the opposition) offers its own interpretation of Turkish nationalism and it is that of Erdoğan which has convinced. For what ?

“Happy is he who calls himself Turkish”

These famous words of Mustafa Kemal known as Atatük, first president of the Republic of Turkey in October 1923, are also those of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who knew how to embody this founding principle of Kemalism, adding to it the happiness of proclaiming oneself Muslim 3. It was around this refrain that his speech on the evening of his victory was structured, accusing those who did not vote for him of wanting to put the country in danger. Even more, the former Prime Minister from 2003 to 2014 then President of the Republic since 2014 single-handedly embodies the Turkish-Islamic synthesis. This ideology, developed in the 1970s 4then disseminated in the 1980s while the military junta was in power, is the basis of an official definition of Turkish nationalism. It brings together the two constituent aspects of Turkish national cultural identity, namely ethnicity (“the past specific to the Turks”) on the one hand, and Sunni Islam, on the other hand. In other words, in Turkey there is an overlap between Islam and secularism 5: the Turks consider themselves to be the standard bearers and shields of Islam. It is precisely this ethno-confessional alliance on which Erdoğan skillfully played.

On the one hand, in addition to his alliance with the Great Unity Party (BBP) and the Yeniden Refah(Renewal of the Prosperity Party), Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was especially able to benefit from the support provided by the Nationalist Party, MHP. This coalition, named Cumhur Ittifakı(People's Alliance) is not new since it dates from 2015. Thus, on May 14, 2023, the presidential camp obtained an absolute majority in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, following the elections. one-round legislative elections, i.e. 321 deputies out of 600 seats. Then, he was able to count on the support of his allies, during the second round of the presidential elections with more than 52% of the votes against the social democrat Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, at the head of the opposition, who totaled 47.8 % voices.

On the other hand, Erdoğan's speech was based around the opposition between Sunni Muslims and Others, namely Muslims from heterodox branches (like the Alevis, i.e. a fifth of the population, to which Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu) 6, the Kurds and the liberals. He therefore succeeded in diverting voters' attention from his economic choices at the origin of the current economic crisis, by focusing on cultural if not religious subjects. This identity preference is also visible both in traditionally pro-Erdoğan regions (Central Anatolia, Black Sea) and in the regions affected by the earthquake of February 2023 where voters overwhelmingly voted for the latter in the first round 7.

For his part, the social democrat Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu (president of the Republican People's Party, CHP) heads a heterogeneous coalition of six parties, called the “Table of Six”. Indeed, this coalition brings together both conservatives and liberals (former AKP executives who left the party), Islamists (opposed to Erdoğan on the issue of corruption and not on those relating to moral values) , secularists, nationalists and pro-Europeans.

Appearing as the “quiet force”, he promised a democratic turn in the event of victory, by restoring the parliamentary regime and promising to put an end to the “confessional disputes which have caused suffering” in the Sunni-majority country.

On the other hand, it is clear that Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu's nationalist speech was redoubled between the two rounds with an anti-Syrian speech: concerning the economic crisis hitting the country, he adopted a tone and themes campaign, inspired by ultranationalism by openly demanding the departure of Syrian refugees 8.

As for the Kurds, openly in conflict with Erdoğan since 2015, they were unable to present a candidate in the presidential elections but they supported candidate Kılıçdaroğlu.

One man at the head of a divided country

The day after this victory, Turkish society appears more divided than ever: 27.7 million votes for Recept Tayyip Erdoğan against 25.4 million for his opponent, in a country which has more than 64 million voters. As a result of the policies led by Erdoğan, this division in Turkish society is all the more visible if we look more closely at the profile of voters.

Indeed, out of a total population of 85 million, 11 million members of the AKP are counted by the register of the Court of Cassation. Erdoğan has a solid activist base: he can count on the ideological support of conservative, Islamist, pious circles residing in small towns or villages in the hinterland.

Their perceptions of inflation are not felt in the same way as in the large metropolises of Istanbul, Ankara, Adana, Denizli, which are suffering from the increase in the prices of rent, transport and consumer products. . Equipped with an AKP card, supporters of the presidential regime have the assurance of benefiting from social assistance, from its clientelist network and position themselves under the protection of a strong, reassuring and protective man.

Likewise, SME managers can benefit from an interest rate lower than the inflation rate. In this sense, Erdoğan personifies the State which supports and distributes aid to its population, which maintains its relationship of dependence with the State.

What lessons can we learn from the re-election of RT Erdoğan to better understand management in Turkey?

This concentration of powers in the hands of a single man, mirrors the image of the organization of Turkish societies: the head of the nation is symmetrically head of the group, head of the family at the head of a hierarchy. pyramidal. Delegating little of his power, he represents a distant, respected, sometimes feared figure. Like the father, he directs, makes decisions and his relationships with his team are very codified.

Managing a Turkish team requires a subtle approach, consulting before imposing, taking the time to meet local decision-makers and teams in order to benefit from their support. It also means taking into consideration the cohesion of a united group proud to be...Turkish!

1Turkey has been experiencing for several years a series of political crises linked in particular to the AKP's growing control over institutions, a control now described as “competitive authoritarianism” (Şebnem, Gümüşçü and Berk, Esen, “Rising Competitive Authoritarianism in Turkey”,in Third World Quarterly,2016, pp. 1581-1606), of “new authoritarianism” (Murat, Somer, “Understanding Turkey's Democratic Breakdown: old vs. new and indigenous vs global authoritarianism”, in Southeast European and Black Sea Studies, 2016, pp. 481-503) or even of “hard totalitarianism” (Cihan, Tuğal, “In Turkey, The Regime Slides from Soft to Hard Totalitarianism”, Open Democracy, 2016).

2The revised version of the Constitution founded the Turkish State, in its article 2, on six principles (republicanism, nationalism, populism, statism, secularism and reformism) which were also those of the single party, the Republican People's Party (the six arrows of Kemalism). In reality, three of these principles have had a lasting impact on the Turkish state: secularism, republicanism and nationalism.

3Onthis subject, see the column by Ahmet Insel, “Erdoğan continues to respond to a social aspiration strongly anchored in Turkish society”, Le Monde, May 17, 2023.

4The Turkish Culture Research Institute (TKAE) and the Home of Intellectuals (Aydınlar Ocagı, 1971) are the main instruments for the propagation of this synthesis. For a complete definition of the Turkish-Islamic synthesis, see Etienne Copeaux, Spaces and times of the Turkish nation. Analysis of a nationalist historiography (1931-1993), CNRS Éditions, 1997, p.78.

5Mustapha Kemal established secularism in Turkey and not secularism to the extent that the State controls Islam (Cf. Jean Baubérot). For an analysis of models of secularism, see Jean Baubérot and Micheline Milot, Laïcités sans frontières, Paris, Seuil, 2011.

6On this subject, see the interview with Elise Massicard, “Electionsin Turkey: By claiming to be an Alevi, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu broke a taboo”, Le Monde, May 10, 2023.

771% of voters in Maras voted for the AKP in the first round (compared to 22% for the opposition), 48% in Hatay. See Maps and data on the presidential elections in Turkey (May 2023), via: https://cartonumerique.blogspot.com/2023/05/elections-Turquie-2023.html

8On this subject, see the article in Le Monde of May 20, 2023, “Turkey: the dangerous turn to the right of the opposition”, where the two correspondents Nicolas Bourcier and Angèle Pierre report the offensive of the leader of the Republican Party of the People (CHP): in a video, the latter protests against the number of refugees settled on Turkish national territory: “ We will not abandon our homeland to this mentality which has introduced 10 million undocumented immigrants among us” , he proclaimed on March 17, 2023.

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