On May 14th, local time, the Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections, referred to as the “most important elections of 2023,” officially took place. The current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years, received 49.4% of the votes, while his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, obtained 44.96% of the votes, and independent candidate Meral Aksener received 5.2%. Since no candidate received over half of the votes, the election will proceed to the second round on May 28th.
The Turkish election has attracted global attention not only due to the country’s internal economic downturn and the devastation caused by a major earthquake but also because Turkey, located at the crossroads of Asia and Europe, is facing a tense geopolitical situation. In the midst of this tension, the election represents, to a certain extent, a choice of development path for the Turkish people: Europe or the United States, railways or automobiles?
Each country has unique campaign strategies. A week before the Turkish general election, the ruling Justice and Development Party, led by President Erdogan, placed a Turkish-made “TOGG” electric car at a campaign point in the center of Ankara, the capital of Turkey. It was a deep blue SUV, shining brightly in the sunlight. The car was surrounded by a circle of ropes, and six or seven young members of the AK Party’s Ankara Youth Branch, wearing blue reflective vests, went around the circle, speaking and campaigning to passersby.
Compared to the noisy speeches of Erdogan and the distribution of leaflets, the “TOGG” electric car excited the pedestrians more. Parents brought their children to take pictures with the car, young men gathered in groups to admire it. While I was interviewing two party workers, an elderly man in a gray jacket with a beard took advantage of the staff’s distraction, lowered the rope, and attempted to touch the electric car with one foot raised as if doing a long jump. Several party workers quickly pulled him away.
“Look! This is our own Turkish car!” Another man happily explained to me. The party workers told me that it was fortunate to witness the car display that day. The “TOGG,” positioned as a mid-to-high-end vehicle, was just launched for sale in April of this year, and it was touring the country for campaign purposes and had just arrived in Ankara.
Not only in the capital, but the “TOGG” received a superstar treatment during its nationwide tour, especially in the Anatolian region of Turkey’s interior. After I mentioned my observations in Ankara, a local friend showed me pictures on his phone of the electric car’s grand arrival in the city of Bayburt in Anatolia: a white horse led the way in front of the car, and dozens of staff members nervously escorted the car to prevent overcrowding or damage caused by overly excited crowds. The people excitedly raised their phones, cheering and shouting.
Similarly, for campaign purposes, Erdogan deliberately arranged the inauguration of the high-speed railway line from Ankara to the eastern city of Sivas on the eve of the elections. This railway line incorporates high-speed rail technology from multiple countries, with a maximum speed of 250 kilometers per hour, reducing the travel time between the two cities from over ten hours to three hours.