A handout picture taken and released on June 13, 2018, shows Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attending the opening ceremony of the Ovit Tunnel in Rize. Photo: Turkish presidency via AFP
When campaigns began in May for Turkey’s snap presidential and parliamentary elections, the AKP’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is seeking re-election, weighed in on the US decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
"The last decision taken by the US means that the sanctity of Jerusalem is abused again … Al-Aqsa Mosque is being strained by drawings of Zionists," he said during an event in Istanbul on May 18, calling on Muslims to act out.
Later the Justice and Development Party’s candidate focused on convincing people that Turkey has developed during his 16-year tenure, promising a better future in his rallies until the Republican People's Party (CHP)'s presidential candidate Muharrem Ince emerged with fiery speeches and promises of a better life.
"There is nothing called a right wing, left wing, AKP or CHP supporter, Alevi or Sunni, Turk or Kurd, and discrimination. I will be the president of 81 million people," Ince said during a rally in Usak province on May 25.
He also criticized Erdogan for claiming that he has nationalized things in Turkey, like weapon systems and industry. For example, Ince claimed most of the materials used in the building of presidential palace have been imported.
Ince's remarks were followed by Erdogan heavily campaigning against him in rallies where the incumbent president replays Ince's speeches and comments on them — a tactic Ince utilizes also.
Turkish voters have been used to this blame game by candidates, but after the jailed Kurdish presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas was allowed to convey messages through his lawyers, things have changed.
Erdogan, who did not want to name Demirtas directly instead referring to him as "the man in prison,” revived debate on the deadly 2014 Kobane events. He accused Demirtas of "inciting" the protests, explaining that he would not utter his name, although he ultimately did "because of the importance of the issue."
His most recent remark was on Wednesday, when he criticized Ince for calling for the release of Demirtas, adding that Demirtas' candidacy should be "corrected.”
"He says: 'He is a presidential candidate, so release him.' What does this mean? One has to meet requirements to be presidential candidate. I believe this is a wrong development. This should be corrected,” Erdogan said.
He said that Ince's request is supported with the claim that Demirtas is "not convicted but jailed," adding that "The reason behind his imprisonment is very important," referring to terror-related charges against him.
The International Crisis Group weighed in saying Demirtas’ campaign matters and Kurds are strategically positioned to influence to the election outcome.
“Snap presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey appear likely to be more closely fought than anticipated. The country’s Kurds could affect the outcome of both contests. Politicians, especially those opposing President Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party, have pledged to address some Kurdish demands in a bid to win their support,” surmised the group.
Osman Ali, a Turkish affairs expert, told Rudaw English on Wednesday that Erdogan has certain reasons for targeting Demirtas.
"Erdogan went to Diyarbakir in the past few days and found out that the HDP has supporters. The Justice and Development Party needs these supporters; therefore, it has to talk about Demirtas in a tough way."
He also thinks that what Erdogan is doing is also a reaction to Demirtas' remarks against him from jail.
While Mamand Roje, a researcher at Rudaw Research Centre, believes that Erdogan wants to use Demirtas for two simultaneous purposes. "He says that Ince has become an ally for someone who supports terrorism, and visits him. He wants to use Demirtas issue indirectly to target Ince and directly target Demirtas," Roje summarized.
He said that both Ince and Demirtas could affect Erdogan's votes, claiming that Demirtas as “an oppressed person” will gain a large number of votes.
Roje believes that targeting different candidates is part of Erdogan's strategy and expected to next target Meral Aksener, the presidential candidate and leader of the nationalist IYI (Good) Party.
He added that Erdogan does not talk about those candidates whose chance of winning is low "such as [Temel] Karamollaoglu," referring to the presidential candidate for Felicity Party (SP).
Although ultimately the Crisis Group sees the Kurdish question as being a central issue in the elections.
“The candidate that wins the presidency and whichever party or bloc prevails in parliamentary elections should build on the reinvigorated discussion of Kurdish issues during the campaign and seek ways to address some longstanding Kurdish demands – or at least ensure debate on those issues continues,” it wrote.