Social Media and Erdogan’s Election Victory: Pros and Cons

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Türkiye is a significant member of NATO and a major military force in the Black Sea. Turkey has always played a role in global politics due to its strategic significance. So, Turkish elections have been in discussion in both Western and Eastern hemisphere. With neck-to-neck competition with opposition Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the Turkish election of 2023 and ensured his hegemonic position in Turkish politics. Although Erdogan in the West is often narrated for his belligerent populism, he is now looking forward to serve another five-year term by the vote of Turkish people that has upheld the country’s democratic process.

In Turkish elections, social media has played a vital role. Social media platforms and internet remained available even before the election night. This allowed the public to continue independent election monitoring as well as reports about the vote count. The mainstream media in Turkey provided continuous updates where the vast majority of people in the country acquire their news. A recent analysis showed that state broadcaster TRT telecasted 32 hours of coverage for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s speeches and 32 minutes to Kemal Kilicdaroglu. However, internet platforms like as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, have also served as arenas for the most significant role of a deeply divided political campaign. The opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu flooded social media platforms with his anti-Erdogan campaign. While Erdogan received 52.14 percent of the vote, his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu received 47.86 percent of the vote. Erdogan’s chances of victory were boosted by the massive public investment that was promoted in local and social media. It also almost insured the opposition would have insurmountable challenges repairing the economy if they ever gained power. Erdogan’s second tactic has been to further exacerbate the secular-conservative divide through social media. The social media has depicted Erdogan as a charismatic leader. His speeches to make the nation a worldwide military and economic force gained millions of views. It is important to note that his language was both religious and nationalist in nature. He even managed to include a Turkish-made electric automobile into his campaign. It helped his party to counteract the broad unhappiness that has been caused by the ongoing economic crisis. This crisis further has resulted in high inflation and a weaker currency. The Turkish citizens’ dominance of social media has developed into another instrument that assisted Erdogan in achieving victory. Turkish government has handled damaging online postings. This had put an end to misinformation related to the elections. It further promoted transparency in platforms like Instagram and YouTube. Türkiye has ensured efforts that no western nations could intervene in the internal politics of Türkiye.

The narrative that Western media outlets presented about Erdogan was equally unfavourable. The Western Medias in particular had led an intensive campaign against Erdogan, publishing provocative covers, openly backing his opposition, conveniently ignoring the democratic process in Turkey, and urging Turkish nationals to rule Erdogan out. Nonetheless, Turkish government and Erdogan’s party had rejected charges that they were using social media for their own political advantage. The social media highlighted Erdogan’s achievements as a global leader who was responsible for developing Turkey through the construction of highways airports, and bridges. And it was successful. A sufficient number of voters also believed that if Kilicdaroglu was elected, the nation would be in a far worse position. Erdogan is seen as a religious saviour and hero by these people and it was highlighted in social media. Kilicdaroglu, on the other hand failed to put substantive policies towards Turkish citizens. His campaign in social media to support LGBTQ+ community, the deportation of the Syrian refugees and openly supporting Ukraine in the ongoing war failed to convince people. Turkish people saw Kilicdaroglu and his Republican People’s Party as symbols of the religious persecution due to their secular opinions.

But as Erdogan has win, there are few bright spots to focus for Türkiye’s future. Firstly, this election was completely free and it was a strong message for Turkish democracy. In this election, every political party had the ability to choose their own candidates and run their own campaigns independently. And people were free to vote the candidate they liked. The participation rates of Turks in the elections demonstrated that they had not given up on democracy. More than 88 percent of were eligible to cast votes, which is an extremely high figure by any measure. Secondly, Turkish people signalled that they reject any western narrative to democracy and they had the power to elect their leader. It also conveyed a message that Turkish society has rejected the intrusion of any Western countries interest in its domestic politics and perceives it as a breach of sovereignty. Thirdly, it has ensured a degree of political stability in the aftermath of the election. Fourthly, in terms of foreign policy, Erdogan will keep working toward the goal of making Türkiye an independent regional power that can compete with the European Union, and the United States. Erdogan will continue his transactional approach to foreign affairs. It is possible that under his leadership, Türkiye’s ties with important regional players like Russia and Iran, as well as the European Union, would continue to be shaped. Erdogan has cultivated strong connections with Russia and refused to cooperate with western sanction but it has continued to provide arms to Ukraine. Lastly, Türkiye will keep robust engagement with Middle East and other Muslim countries. This will also bolster investments from Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates in Türkiye and the central bank of Türkiye with multibillion-dollar balances.

But there are some potential obstacles Erdogan may encounter despite his victory through this democratic process. Firstly, rising prices could pose challenge even it is a democratic victory. Secondly, a severe decline in rate and the collapse of the Turkish lira could impose risky situation for the Turkish economy. The lira is under intense pressure as a result of low foreign exchange reserves and very negative real interest rates. Thirdly, millions of Turks who voted against Erdogan will pose new challenges. There are about 49% people who did not want him to win. Fourthly, the Syrian refuges will create new tensions for Erdogan. The 3.6 million Syrian refugees residing in Turkey and Erdogan’s sustainable plan to repatriate them would also pose new challenges.

To sum up it can be added that, during the election in Turkey, misinformation, fraudulent pictures, and false statements generated a significant threat to the free electoral process. The campaigns for both the presidency and parliamentary elections have not been immune to the spread of misinformation narratives from internal and external sources. Because of this, there were obstacles in the way of a free and fair election. Despite the fact that the Turkish people had no trouble in understanding that the recordings were a fabrication when Erdogan responded to questions asked on live television by retelling the claimed events. Through the use of social media and post-truth politics, western media outlets attempted to exert their dominance over the choices made by voters. Erdogan was portrayed as a dishonest leader in both internal and external media and social media platforms. In addition to that, it included Erdogan using the media outputs of the opposition in his campaign rallies. Even with all the false criticism from western media and hard competition with the opponent leader, Erdogan became victorious and democratically elected leader of Turkey. In the end, this election has upheld the strength of the Turkish voter, Turkish democratic society and their rejection towards post truth politics.

– Aishwarya Sanjukta Roy Proma is a Research Intern at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

Published in Middle East Political and Economic Institute [Link]