Today, June 24, the citizens of Turkey are going to ballot boxes to vote for the presidency and the members of parliament. After the controversial very narrow victory of Erdogan in the referendum, which EU delegation watching the referendum under the state of emergency condemned it as 'neither fair nor free', Erdogan managed to change the constitution which proposes to replace the parliamentary system with his own innovation, Turkish Presidential system. Although Erdogan and the ruling party officials denied very determinately the claims that a snap election will be held, on 18 April, he announced a snap election for 24 June instead of the end of 2019, as planned, upon the call of his ultra-nationalist electoral ally, the National Action Party (MHP). When the state of emergency which was declared just after the failed coup attempt (15 July 2016), has still in place, the election campaign process showed that the concerns of the opposition, the observers and citizens are not baseless.
Rather than analysing why Erdogan decided to go for early elections and very reasonable great concerns about the elections, I would like to appreciate the great effort and creativity of the opposition and ordinary citizens in Turkey both in running the elections campaign and in getting prepared not just to vote but getting organised to protect their votes in the ballot boxes against the possible frauds in voting. The election campaigns of opposition enriched their ways to construct an inclusive and solidaristic language against the polarising discourse of Erdogan despite very unbalanced and biased coverage of the opposition not in the state run media but also privately-owned TV channels.
When the decrees ordered the shut down of the opposing media outlets and news agencies which take an important role in the live election footage, the handover of Doğan Media Group, the biggest non pro-gov conglomerate, to the pro government conglomerate Demiroren group put the last nail in the coffin of media in Turkey. Now, the only news agency is the state news agency Anadolu News Agency, it cannot be claimed that the trust of the citizens is very high to this agency, due to very limited coverage of opposition parties and four other presidential candidates. However, of a great concern for elections coverage is that a pro government TV channel TVNET accidentally reflected the election results 6 days earlier, showing that Erdogan won the 53 % of the votes.
Social Media was not an Option for the Main Opposition: #Bypassing the Media
Frodo Baggins and Wikipedia also said #TAMAM
CHP, (Republican People's Party), the main opposition party performed two different project online and offline campaigns, one is for its presidential candidate Muharrem Ince and the other for the party since the party is not led by the presidential candidate of CHP, but Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Candidate Ince inspired a very high enthusiasm, of which community is highly active and literate in digital media. The motto of their campaign was also the product of this creativity and intelligence, which was also shared with other opposition party voters. People shared their personal stories why they will not vote for Erdogan and his Party under the hashtag #TAMAM, which means 'ok, enough' in Turkish, over the statement of President Erdogan "If one day our nation says 'enough,' only then will we step aside." in one first of his election speeches. This hashtag campaign became a worldwide trending topic, which were tweeted by more than one million Twitter users as well as international celebrities from
Elijah Wood to Wikipedia's founder Jimmy Wales. The excitement of younger people online seem to inspire and contribute to the rallies and political campaigns on the ground. Muharrem Ince, who took selfie in his each rally with all the attendants, have voiced his disappointment and outrage about the biased coverage and black out of his largest rallies by media at every opportunity, and he urged his supporters to watch and share his rallies and speeches over Youtube. even shot online commercials jus to ask their supporters to share these videos, to bypass the censorship imposed by the pro-government media.
The first E–rally in History, even from prison
The most innovative but sad political communication pratice on social media, probably the first in the history, was the e-rally on Twitter of Selahattin Demirtas, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP)'s jailed presidential candidate from the jail to reach his supporters and other potential voters on Twitter, not only for combating the heavy censorship but also the propaganda on mainstream media. 45 year-old candidate, who is in jail for 20 months, is allowed to meet his lawyers few times per week and call his wife a few times per month. His wife Basak Demirtas, played an active role during this campaign process and shared her phone conversation with the public over social media on June 6, which Demirtas gave a speech to his audience to respond the allegations of Erdogan. Then, through a thread connecting a series of tweets under the hashtag #DemirtaşTwitterMitingi, he spoke of his and his party's election promises. His satirical and humorous language with attractive and colourful visuals in his tweets stressing the pluralism, "many against one man" which is the mantra of the campaign, have been catchy for the younger audience. He posted tweets like he was talking in a political rally to make Twitter users feel as they are in a rally and ridiculing with the statements of Erdogan and other candidates:
"Friends, I am aware of that the weather is so hot and it is a huge rally (I hope so) I do not want to keep you here more. Is there any health officer among you, someone seems to feel sick there. No, do not pour water on her head, call a doctor."
Particularly, the kettle conversation over Twitter (#DemirtaşKetılSohbeti) was very successful to engage with his supporters and audience interactively, the users asked questions and sent their messages to Demirtas through Twitter, and his lawyers printed them out and responded all tweets with the images of handwritten replies of Demirtas.
Smart trolling by İYİ Party
When IYI Party used the slogan "turn your face to Sun", they also used this as a hashtag. When Meral Aksener posted as well tweets, she stated that the younger IYI Parti members bypass the censorship online, when she tries to do the same through her speeches in the rallies, offline. Iyi Parti launched a very creative Google Ads campaign, a smart trolling method, which targets the potential AKP voters to change their minds, When a user googles for some relevant keywords about the ruling party, you come across creative relevant ad words of IYI Party, like "there is a better option", etc..
Conservative and humorous
The conservative Saadet (Felicity Party), which is led by Temel Karamollaoglu, also keep up with the overall trend of opposition and ambiance of the election period and positioned itself as a more moderate and reconciling party respecting other identities against the Erdogan's polarising and exclusive discourse. Saadet party carried out very successful projects including cartoons which target younger generation, which demonstrated Karamollaoglu as a superman who stops the car driven by Erdogan, which is about to tumble down the cliff. The most emotional expressive commercial was also created by them, using nostalgic themes like an old radio which appeal to older potential voters. A middle aged man rotates the button of an old radio receiver, and just encounter with the Erdogan's insulting and humiliating speeches in all radio stations, then he finds an old Turkish anonymous song and smiling with peace when leaning back in his chair.
Will Henry Fonda try to convince others for Erdogan?: 12 Angry Young People of AKP
The online sentiment and reconciling messages with an inclusive approach to all the citizens of the main opposition parties were in connection with their offline operations. When some journalists and authors like Erk Acaer and Gaye Boralioglu resemble this campaigning process and excitement among the citizens Gezi movement, AKP's response was the same with their reaction to Gezi protests. Alongside dominating all the mainstream media except Fox News, AKP launched high budget social media campaigns targeting different segments of the citizens. Although AKP run social media campaigns like "First Vote Movement" targeting the young people who will vote the first time, of whom 70 % did not vote for AKP according to the polls. They shot a web series, titled '12 angry young people', inspired from the great classical movie 12 Angry men, which one young man tries to convince other young people in the room for Erdogan. Despite of the efforts of using a humorous and a younger language in their videos, imitated the Gezi's rhetoric frames, it was not found realistic and authentic due to the inconsistency with the rhetoric of the AKP supporters on social media, known as AK trolls, as well as the overall polarising strategy of the party, particularly after Gezi protests. The gif below, shared by one of the pro government Twitter account, which the pictures change except Erdogan, shows the general approach and rhetoric of the AKP supporters during the campaign period.
A Great Effort: The Citizens who do not only Vote but also Protect Their Votes :
However, the struggle of the opposition and responsible citizens of Turkey did not come to the end yet. Today, the citizens will be watching their votes against the potential election frauds and will try to defend their votes with their heart and soul. In this campaigning period, they did not just try to bypass media censorship, but also tried to get organised voluntarily to take charge as a polling clerk for providing the safety of the votes for the conduction of a free and fair election. When young people started fundraising campaigns to take charge in the problematic regions where less clerks and people take place, dokuz8NEWS has made a call for citizens to join the #TurkeyElections Citizens News Watch Network with a campaign titled #WhatsTheNews? to prevent media censorship and manipulation that threatens election safety. Some platforms were organised like Sandik Gucu (Ballot Power) for registration of voluntary poll clerks in the needed stations as well as for educating them, providing support service and promoting other tools like Adil Secim. Adil Secim (Fair Elections), a mobile application and also a website to lift the monopoly of state news agency over the results of the elections, has been built by the platform including CHP, IYI Party, Saadet Party and HDP. Through the app, the clerks are creating a profile and can upload the official report of the results, get live support, call the support centre and find answers to some key questions. The citizens have been warning each other over social media not to depend on and share the results of the state run Anadolu Agency, to prevent an early demoralisation and and wait in the poll stations until the end of elections. In the last referendum, Erdogan had declared his victory, when the votes were still being counted and the news agency had started with a very high percentage of YES in favour of Erdogan, then decreased to 51.3.
They Deserve All appreciation: Turkey's Citizens' Strong Commitment to Democracy
The participation and determination of the citizens in the elections not just as a voter but as activists who try to provide own security, shows public's very strong commitment to democracy as well as their increasing concerns about the future of Turkey under the ruling of AKP for more than 16 years. For days, people are sharing not just emotional support messages to all opposition but also very useful tips how to perform their duties. The advises of some users, retweeted thousands of times, prove high devotion and effort of the citizens, who are fully aware of the difficulty of their duties today:
"my election bag is ready voter registration document, identity, A4 sheets, pens, photocopies of the letter of application, electric torch, power bank, charger, mobile wifi modem, paper tissues and wet wipes, the pills for migraine, food and water..."
The morning started with wishful messages of the Twitter users to each other to wake up a bright future. When CHP's MP candidate Mehmet Ali Celebi, in Izmir decided to go to Urfa, one of the Kurdish cities, to protect the ballot boxes at risk in the region, at the cost of voting for himself, all the tweets are the evidences that the citizens of Turkey take the elections and democracy very seriously:
" Am I the only one who perceive each poll clerk, observer as a fighter in the Battle of Canakkale? The sacred mission that they hold, has a great importance for the future of this land. God help you all!". (DK/TK)
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