ISTANBUL BLOG: Social media swings from depression to mania on local election results

ISTANBUL BLOG: Social media swings from depression to mania on local election results
Erdogan seen taking it on the chin after conceding defeat in a speech to gathered supporters. The huge consolation is that there are no more elections scheduled until 2028. / Turkish presidency.
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade April 1, 2024

Social media do not represent societies. They are full of trolls and so-called influencers. Only a small number of people in a society are truly active on social media, with politicians, companies and other organisations dominating the platforms.

Some real people regularly pop up of course, but much of their input is fluff, perhaps to post a comment when their football team wins a game, or to celebrate a special day. They don’t really help us get a grasp of what is really going on out there.

The traditional media is similarly not up to the task. As a whole, it has actually never overly bothered itself with the need to reflect the truth. And now its weight and impact have been lost with the rise of social media.

Since the results of Turkey’s local elections were released on the evening of March 31, a festive air has swept across Turkish social media and the so-called opposition’s media channels. The content fairly bubbles with jokes and inferences.

The Erdogan media, meanwhile, evinces a sadness, since the municipalities were its main source of funding. After President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s regime lost Istanbul and Ankara in the 2019 local polls, some Erdogan media publications had to shut down.

Since politics was popularised in Ancient Greece, it has served as fertile ground for everyone to talk out of their hat. When the mood is strong, everyone piles in, coining arguments over political developments.

Election results are particularly provocative. Floods of jokes, contentions and inferences follow. Though there is little by way of questioning the type and special dynamics of the election in question.

The good thing for the pundit—the regular and otherwise—is that no one even remembers what was said five minutes ago. No one takes the discussion with the level of meditation and seriousness that it actually deserves. It is only important to somehow attract some attention in the given moment.

At the end of the day, it is not too possible to work out the relationship between cause and effect where homo sapiens is concerned. Those studying the species often note its amazing capacity, which has endured for thousands of years, to reason when it does not know the reason. No-one had any idea why lightning flashed, but some gods were created nonetheless.

Following the Turkish presidential election held in May last year, the mainstream media detected a rise in nationalism in the country. Currently, they are detecting a possible hole below the waterline that could eventually sink the Erdogan regime.

Both of these talking points make for good headlines. But you’ve got to be quick about getting your pot noodle wisdom on to the shelves. Your ideas may be poorly constructed, but no matter, the important thing is to have your say.

So, how about this. One analysis is that nothing much has changed with the Turkish vote since the national elections of 10 months ago.

Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) took 35.61% in the parliamentary elections back then, while it registered 35.48% in the just completed local elections. Its junior ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has fallen to 4.99% from 10.07%, while another junior ally, Yeniden Refah Partisi (New Welfare Party) has risen to 6.19% from 2.81%.

The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) has risen to 37.76% from 25.33%, while its ally, Iyi Party, has fallen to 3.77% from 9.69%.

When observed from space, the Kurds, represented by their new party DEM, are seen to have fallen to 5.70% from 8.82%. However, it should be recalled that the political awareness of the Kurds is really high. Thus, in the big cities they have again voted tactically against the Erdogan regime by backing the CHP. DEM did put up candidates in Istanbul, but they were more like “rabbit”, or pacesetter, athletes than anything else.

If we can bear being bored, we can also note that the Kurdish political organisations opened a dialogue channel with the Erdogan regime by running candidates in the major cities. However, this does not mean a new peace process is in the offing. The Kurdish entities are, anyway, mainly concentrated on Syria and Iraq.

The share of the vote and the Kurdish question are both rewarding grounds for punditry. However, when the alliances (i.e. voters opt for their party in the parliamentary election but for other parties, or candidates, in the presidential and local elections) and the vote-rigging (i.e. assessing how much thievery occurred in the crucial presidential elections and in the latest local polls, while noting that in Turkish elections the particularly significant thievery happens in the rural areas, while all the focus is on the metropoles) are taken into account, it is not hard to work out that we have spent a few minutes on absolute nonsense.

Knowing we risk becoming even more bored if we evaluate what the local election results are reliably telling us, then it is not possible to come up with much. For that you might have to wait until 2028 when Turkey’s next major elections, parliamentary and presidential polls, are scheduled to take place.

That’s right. It is April 1, 2024. The Erdogan regime remains in place. The next elections it must face are four years away.

Also true, however, is that in the space of say four hours, everything can turn upside down in Turkey. Leave it to Nostradamus to see what Turkey will look like four years from now.

Those who yearn for the end of Erdogan will hope for snap elections. But there is a trick in play here that it is worth recounting.

After the local elections of 2019, the regime kept alive the possibility of early polls almost all the way through to May 2023, when the scheduled vote took place.

Snap poll expectations serve as a piece of cheese dangling in front of a mouse running on the wheel. If the mouse loses all hope and stops running, it does not produce any electricity and the bulb goes dark. Yet a single piece of cheese hanging in front of the wheel can solve that problem.

Current planning of the administration appears to suggest the 2028 presidential election will be held early. But not too early. Perhaps, only a few months early.

Erdogan is currently serving his third term, while claiming that it is his second term. He does not much bother himself about complying with the laws of office, but if he announces he is to run for his third (or rather fourth) term, there will be lawmakers in parliament who will call for snap polls.

It is all a little bit confusing, but we can simplify things as Erdogan plans to hold on to his post until he dies. So, if we ourselves live to see the day, we can prepare for the next burst of punditry that will surround the run-up to the next election. Don't drool.