Democracy or dictatorship? Rough power or mountain people? Erdogan or not? New parliament to be elected in Turkey on Sunday. But there is much more at stake on the streets of Istanbul
A storm is brewing over Gezipark. No, no political. It just rains. But that rather violently. Two Japanese tourists run across Taksim Square with grim faces. The streetcar rings its way through a group of young men whose hairstyle was perfectly gelled until a moment ago. Handlers try to save their plastic trays of melons and boiled corn from the wind. And Burgerking becomes an emergency quarter.
Two years after tens of thousands of Turks demonstrated in and around Gezipark, first for trees, then against police violence, and finally for a completely new Turkey, everyday life has long since returned to Istanbul’s streets. Even though an election is taking place that for most Turks is about much more than the distribution of seats in the parliament of Ankara.
For example "The question: do we want democracy or dictatorship?"? Anyone who asks the 32-year-old Can for his opinion on the election will need not only an umbrella this afternoon, but above all patience and earplugs. "Which choice? This is fascism, nazism." Can sits on the steps of Gezi Park. One of the candidates of the ruling AKP shines in rough format from the facade of a house across the street.
Has the most pennants in any case: the nationalist CHP is expected to get the second most votes. Image: F. Kohler
On Sunday he wants to elect HDP. And no, he was not leftist. "And Kurds certainly not." The new party is becoming something of an anti-AKP party these days. Not only because Kurds, leftists and liberals alike rally behind her. but above all because a jump above the ten-percent mark is probably the only chance of denying the AKP an electoral victory. Or as Can says "It is the last hurdle before Erdogan’s dictatorship."
Erdogan has never been so powerful
Maybe this election is about as much as it’s ever been about. And yet, it is really only about one who, by officialdom, was not allowed to have anything to do with this election: Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He wants to disempower the parliament, to change the government, to transfer the executive power to the president, i.e. to him. "He does not even pretend to care about the Verfang", says Cen, whose tantrum is only occasionally interrupted by a drag on his cigarette.
About a 30-second sprint across Taksim and a wet pair of underpants away, Metin stands in his women’s clothing store. "Just look around at what Erdogan has achieved", he says, and he means it literally: on the square, which gained worldwide fame through its trans-gas orgies, the cafes are well filled even during thunderstorms. A few hundred meters away, a huge excavation pit is waiting to be filled with the next high-rise building. "Erdogan is the only one with a vision for our country", says Metin. "20 years ago we were all farmers. I do not want this time back, no one wants that", says the 34-year-old.
Erdogan has now made the AKP the election winner three times in a row, each time winning more seats in Ankara’s parliament. This Sunday, too, there is no doubt that the AKP will win for a fourth time. Something around 40 percent is the forecast. Erdogan has never been as powerful as he is today, probably also because he has never been so lonely. The murdered ex-president Abdullah Gul, the Milli Gorus movement, his former adversary Fethullah Gulen, the once all-powerful militars, PKK leader ocalan, the Gezi Park movement: they all hardly play a role in this election campaign anymore.
Erdogan fans like Metin are convinced that with Erdogan’s personal power, that of Turkey will also increase. In 2001, the country was still teetering on the brink of financial collapse; today, Turkey ranks 17th among the world’s largest economies. "Think Big" was an economic strategy in the 1980s that focused primarily on prestigious large-scale projects. "We are building the world’s largest airport", is written on one of the AKP election posters. Erdogan’s claim to power over Turkey seems to electrify many of his supporters. Leaving the others shaking their heads. Erdogan’s new presidential palace was opened a year ago. More than 400 million euros is said to have cost the building, which is 30 times the size of the Weibe Haus. Even the campaign poster, which for once features Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu alongside Erdogan, is in the Guinness Book of Records. "The New Turkey" AKP supporters call the new way of life. It is what critics of Erdogan are most afraid of.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu promotes the subway. Both play a rather minor role in this campaign, to say the least. Picture: F. Kohler
"Unfortunately, we Turks like strong leaders"
Erdogan’s fears, on the other hand, are not so good for Selahattin Demirtas. He is something of the anti-Erdogan of Turkish politics: young, charismatic, articulate. In last August’s presidential election, he already won the ten percent his party now needs. When Can talks about Demirtas, his voice becomes quieter for the first time. "The thing with the Kurds" he found "not so good either" and alludes to the party’s links with the Kurdish guerrillas of the PKK, which makes the party suspect for many Turks.
"But they have changed", he says. It is not only the "People from the mountains" (that’s what Erdogan calls the Kurds abfallig) who vote for the HDP. "And besides, you saw what he did in Kobane." Erdogan’s refusal last year to support Kurdish fighters in the northern Syrian city in the fight against the Islamic State has also won the HDP many supporters who are not otherwise interested in Kurdish interests.
Many HDP supporters accuse the AKP of even trying to prevent the HDP’s entry by force: More than 70 attacks have already taken place against his party, Demirtas told CNN Turk on Thursday. In May, six people were injured in attacks on party buros. The driver of an election campaign bus died Wednesday of this week. The bloody climax so far happened this Friday: at an election rally of the HDP Kurdish Diyabarbakir two explosions killed at least two people. More than 100 were injured.
How the election will turn out? "No idea, we Turks unfortunately like strong leaders", Can says on the steps of Gezi Park. At least on this point he and Metin from the clothing store are in agreement. Erdogan has proven for 20 years that no one can stop him, the. Why not to vote for one of the other parties? "Either you are with Erdogan or you are not at all." It’s still raining in Taksim Square. Maybe the weather will be better on Sunday.