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Turkey elections: Erdogan’s campaign thinks inclusivity key to a comfortable win

AKP officials say they saw a runoff coming and had a strategy all lined up. Key will be avoiding pitfalls and any complacency
A person walks past billboards of Recep Tayyip Erdogan a day after the presidential election day, in Istanbul, 15 May (AP)
A person walks past billboards of Recep Tayyip Erdogan a day after the presidential election day, in Istanbul, 15 May (AP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aides believe he will comfortably emerge victorious in the runoff presidential election on 28 May, so are focusing on running a more unifying and positive campaign than previously.

A senior official at Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) said they weren’t surprised by the first round results, where Erdogan received 49.4 percent, 0.6 percent short of an outright victory.

The main opposition candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, secured just 44.96 percent.

“We had a poll in our own hands exactly along the lines of these results,” said the official. “We were excited.”

The official said the Erdogan campaign had already prepared a strategy for the runoff, which meant it was able to push out an ad on Monday hours after the results came in, which featured a song by Turkish arabesque singer Kibariye and American Della Miles.

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The song projects an image of Erdogan as a unifying figure for the country, someone to be hopeful about. 

“We also got signals that Erdogan could have declared an outright victory in the first round, but still spent a lot of money on this song, because we could have needed it,” the official said.

'We will have a more positive campaign that embraces almost every voter'

- AKP official

“And we’re using it now. We will have a more positive campaign that embraces almost every voter.”

The official said Erdogan will not hold rallies nationwide, wary of antagonising Kilicdaroglu supporters, and would visit areas hit by February’s earthquake to solidify his image as a rebuilder and as someone who can resolve the nation’s problems.

Erdogan has recently hit out at Kilicdaroglu supporters, accusing them of being insensitive towards victims of the earthquake, which killed around 50,000 people.

Some Kilicdaroglu supporters have attacked earthquake victims on social media for sticking with Erdogan even after the government’s disaster response has been accused of being inadequate.

The AKP official said the opposition has been in an echo chamber and wasn’t intimately familiar with the country’s sociology.

“They couldn’t see what’s going on and I don’t really blame them, because it was hard to decipher for us as well,” he said.

“Our strategy to target the opposition for its indirect alliance with the HDP worked.”

Ahead of the first round of the election, Kilicdaroglu secured support from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democracy Party (HDP), which urged its voters to back the candidate but stayed out of the Table of Six opposition coalition.

Erdogan used that tacit alliance to attack Kilicdaroglu, associating him with the PKK Kurdish armed group that has ideological links with the HDP.

Though the president began with a somewhat positive campaign that focused on his concrete achievements in the defence industry and infrastructure, it took a polarising turn in the last two weeks as he labelled the opposition coalition as “gay” and “terrorist”.

Campaign like there's no tomorrow

The official said that they were taken aback when credible polling companies like Konda indicated an outright win by Kilicdaroglu. “To be honest, we doubted our own results, but now we see that we were on point,” the official added.

Two other AKP officials said Erdogan in a meeting on Tuesday ordered all his campaign leaders and officials to return to the provinces they had been assigned and work as if he’d never emerged on top in the first round.

'We believe we will enjoy a comfortable victory as the margin between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu may grow further'

- Senior AKP official

He will also make more televised addresses and try to visit cities where the race is tight.

Erdogan also asked all AKP candidates that had won seats in parliament on Sunday to remain in their provinces, continue campaigning and ask for support from voters.

The party is focusing on voters who may be planning to relocate to different areas for the summer and so wouldn't be around to vote in their districts, so are asking Erdogan's supporters to stay put until the runoff is over.

“We take it very seriously,” a second AKP official said. “We arrange ways to mobilise our voters to the polling stations.”

The senior official said they want to avoid pitfalls and maintain their careful messaging on the HDP.

“We have more material in terms of campaign footage and arguments that could be used,” the senior official added.

Turkey elections: Kilicdaroglu overhauls campaign team after first round loss
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One of those potential pitfalls could be the Kurdish Islamist Free Cause Party (HUDA-PAR), which allied itself with the AKP and won four seats in parliament.

There are signs that those four MPs might want to be sworn in using Kurdish, something that could scare nationalist voters.

“This is why the oath-taking for members of parliament will take place after the 28 May vote,” one opposition official speculated. “It could get ugly for them.”

Both camps are trying to win the five percent of the vote that ultranationalist candidate Sinan Ogan got in the first round. 

Erdogan’s aides believe the president could get most of those votes.

“The opposition is in disarray as they fired people and changed their campaign team. And many of Ogan’s voters are former Erdogan voters,” the senior AKP official said.

“We believe we will enjoy a comfortable victory as the margin between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu may even grow further, we might get 55 or 56 percent of the votes.”

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