Recep Tayyip Erdogan is getting closer to his re-election. He is ahead of his opponent, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, by more than three points, three days before the second round of the presidential election in Turkey scheduled for Sunday. Regardless of the outcome, this campaign will have been marked by an increasingly assertive discourse, that of the far right.
How did this nationalist theme prevail in the campaign? Will it be part of the political line of the next presidential term? What are the reasons for its success? “The nationalist discourse has always been very decisive in Turkey”, explains to 20 minutes Adel Bakawan, associate researcher at the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri) and specialist in the Middle East.
How did the far right impose itself in the Turkish presidential campaign?
The Turkish Republic has seen the nationalist discourse flourish during this intervening period. Erdogan’s main opponent even changed tack and adopted a far-right narrative after the first round. Kemal Kiliçdaroglu claimed to be moderate and a bearer of liberal ideas, for democracy. Since then, he has “radically changed his tone to the point of promising the expulsion of all Syrian refugees in Turkey”, notes Adel Bakawan. They are officially 3.7 million to have fled the war and the repression of Bashar al-Assad on Turkish soil.
From now on, “the dominant ones are moving towards this framework of reflection as if it were the only decisive reading grid during a vote”, develops the specialist in the Middle East. Turkey finds itself in a particular geopolitical environment, between Syria at war for ten years, Iraq and its “practically non-existent state” as well as Iran “cursed by the international community”, lists the researcher. So “the only thing that matters is military power”, Turkey’s power in a hostile environment. “Nationalism is a comfort, we feel good there”, abounds with AFP the French historian Etienne Copeaux, specialist in Turkish nationalism, who evokes a “compulsory consensus”, a “catechism” consubstantial with the nation forged by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Will the next presidential term be marked on the far right?
Barring a huge surprise, Erdogan should win against Kemal Kiliçdaroglu. This radical change in tone risks losing votes to the opponent of the outgoing president, knowing that in the Kurdish areas, 75% of voters voted for him. “His speech does not hold, it is pragmatic, while Erdogan exploits the story of religion, of history, in a coherent way to get elected, he is then more credible”, underlines Adel Bakawan. But will he have to maintain this far-right line once elected? Erdogan received the support of the third man in the first round, the ultranationalist Sinan Ogan, with 5.2% of the vote.
If he is elected, it is likely that Erdogan will then have to “manage the far right in a subtle way, without ever brutalizing it but without letting them take all the space either”, analyzes the researcher. Adel Bakawan does not predict a hardening of the political line of the current head of state. “Comfortably re-elected, he will present himself as a unifier, respected inside and outside, with the desire to appease Turkish society”, advances the specialist according to whom “we will be more in continuity. »
How to explain such a success of the nationalist narrative?
The far right will certainly emerge stronger and may gain weight following this election. In a country that is struggling economically, where the cost of living is very expensive, why is this nationalist concern so shared in society? Several aspects can explain it, with in the first place the massive presence of Syrian refugees, “a fundamental element” of the discourse of the far right, according to Adel Bakawan. In addition, the Turkish state has built a “speech around an enemy on the edge of the country, the PKK, considered terrorist and a threat to national security”, explains the specialist.
Finally, the context of the Middle East as a whole also plays a role, especially since the historic agreement between Iran and Saudi Arabia “to strengthen the region on an authoritarian model, very far from the democratization of the Middle East Adds Adel Bakawan. “In this environment, Turkish society is very sensitive to nationalist discourse, Erdogan’s policy is not a model of democracy, freedom of expression and respect for human rights, it is a model that corresponds to what Emerging authoritarian Middle East,” he continues. And with the outgoing president, “we will have a coherent Middle East that is leaving for years of distance with human rights, freedoms and democracy. »