Turkey at a Crossroads Erdoğan Faces a Real Risk of Losing Election

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has ruled Turkey for over 20 years. Now, there is a real chance he could be defeated in Sunday's election. A journey to disappointed supporters, companies suffering under the beleaguered economy – and to the man who could oust the eternal president.

The waterfront district of Kasımpaşa in Istanbul has hardly changed a bit since Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used to sell sesame rings here half a century ago. Austere residential high-rises are lined up, one after the other, laundry hanging out to dry from the balconies. Most of the women on the street wear headscarves, and the men kill time in the tea houses playing backgammon.


The article you are reading originally appeared in German in issue 19/2023 (May 6th, 2023) of DER SPIEGEL.

SPIEGEL International

Mehmet Toprak is standing behind the counter of his grocery in a side street, a short, 82-year-old with thinning gray hair, a gray beard and a hunched back. Like the Erdoğans, Toprak's family is also from the Black Sea region – and Toprak has known Erdoğan since he was a child. He proudly followed his neighbor's career, as he first became the mayor of Istanbul and then the prime minister and president of Turkey. For years on end, he says, he would pray for Erdoğan every Friday at the mosque.

These days, though, Toprak has lost all enthusiasm for the head of state. "Erdoğan has let us down," he says. "He only cares about power, not about the country."

Still today, Erdoğan flaunts his working-class roots and calls himself a "man of the people." For people like Toprak, such claims are increasingly sounding like mockery. Even as Erdoğan resides in a 1,000-room palace in Ankara, Topcak continues to run his grocery store day after day because his pension isn't enough to live on. Prices for food, water and electricity have risen so steeply over the past several years, says Toprak, that his five grown sons wouldn't be able to make ends meet without his help.

Erdoğan on the campaign trail: "The Turkish century"

Erdoğan on the campaign trail: "The Turkish century"

An opposition election rally in Manisa: The chances of a change of power have seldom been so great.

An opposition election rally in Manisa: The chances of a change of power have seldom been so great.

Foto: Alp Eren Kaya / Depo Photos / IMAGO

Toprak has asked that his real name not be used for this article. Turkey under Erdoğan, he says, has become a country in which citizens are arrested merely for criticizing the government. Toprak is a devout man, and he has voted for Erdoğan's Islamist-conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) his entire life. But no longer, he says, adding that he plans to abstain in the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held on May 14.

Erdoğan has been at the helm in Turkey for more than 20 years, first as prime minister and then, since 2014, as president. He has shaped the country to a greater degree than any politician since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern-day Turkey. Now, though, for the first time, his re-election is not a forgone conclusion. Most polls show him trailing opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

In the 100th year of its existence, the Turkish Republic finds itself at a crossroads. If Erdoğan is re-elected for yet another term, observers fear that he could transform the country into a dictatorship, declare himself ruler for life and abolish elections.

A victory by the opposition would not, however, necessarily put Turkey on a new path. Kılıçdaroğlu has, to be sure, pledged to resuscitate democracy and the rule of law in the country. But it is unclear whether Erdoğan would accept defeat – or whether he would seek to emulate Donald Trump in 2021 and incite his followers to rise up in protest. His interior minister has already begun laying the rhetorical groundwork, warning last week that the West may transform the election this coming Sunday is "a political coup attempt by the West."

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan turned Turkey into a one-man state. Now, he has to fear that he could be facing election defeat.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan turned Turkey into a one-man state. Now, he has to fear that he could be facing election defeat.


What becomes of Turkey is also of great importance to Germany and Europe. The country is a member of the NATO alliance and a European Union accession candidate. It is also home to almost 4 million refugees from Syria. In addition, Erdoğan is one of the only heads of state who maintains close ties with both Kyiv and Moscow. And finally, almost 3 million people with Turkish roots live in Germany – conflicts in Turkey can quickly spread to German domestic politics.

In the past, Erdoğan has always had a gift for wriggling out of precarious political predicaments. More recently, though, a number of places in Turkey have shown clearly why his rule could, in fact, come to an end soon. In Adıyaman, many earthquake victims feel abandoned by the state; in Kayseri, erstwhile up-and-comers are concerned about losing their prosperity; in Istanbul, an entire younger generation is turning away from Islam. And in Ankara, one man is preparing for a presidential changing of the guard.

İlknur Emine Demirbaş lost everything when the building where she lived collapsed in the February 6 earthquake. Everything is gone, she says: furniture, dishes, jewelry. She was only able to save her three parakeets from the rubble.

Demirbaş, 46, now lives with her husband Gökhan and their two grown sons in a tent in Adıyaman, in southeastern Anatolia. She has covered the floor with carpets and mattresses, with a portable heater providing warmth. The three birds are in a cage in the corner. "They're all we have left," she says.

More than 50,000 people in Turkey died in the earthquake, along with roughly 8,000 across the border in Syria. Fully 2 million people lost their homes. Adıyaman is close to the epicenter of the tremor, and three months after the disaster, it is a ghost town. Many of the buildings were either completely destroyed or so badly damaged that residents are unable to return. Like Demirbaş, they are now sleeping in tents. One local journalist estimates that of the 300,000 former residents of Adıyaman, half have moved away since the earthquake.

Demirbaş is wearing cardigan and sweatpants, and tears are running down her cheeks. The metal factory where her husband used to work has shut its doors, she says. And when he fell ill with pneumonia, there was no bed available for him in the hospital. "Where is the government?" Demirbaş wants to know.

İlknur Emine Demirbaş stands in front of her tent in Adıyaman.

İlknur Emine Demirbaş stands in front of her tent in Adıyaman.

Foto: Yusuf Sayman / DER SPIEGEL

Erdoğan promised to govern efficiently when he introduced the presidential system following a referendum in 2017. But the earthquake has now revealed the weaknesses of the one-man state. Experts are convinced that one reason for the huge number of casualties is that construction companies didn't follow building regulations intended to ensure that new buildings are able to withstand earthquakes. Construction companies are among the AKP's largest donors. And one reason for the late arrival of emergency personnel in the earthquake region is that those responsible at public agencies were paralyzed as they waited for instructions from the president.

The government announced that it would replace the destroyed apartment buildings within one year. "The leader is doing what must be done," reads an Erdoğan election poster in Adıyaman. But Demirbaş complains that so far, hardly any aid has reached those affected by the earthquake. "We have nowhere to live. We have no work. We don't know what the future holds," she says.

In the 2018 presidential election, Erdoğan received 67 percent of the vote in Adıyaman, higher than almost anywhere else in Turkey. But the earthquake will likely have cost the president some measure of his support here.

"It will be the largest construction project in the history of the republic."

President Erdoğan on reconstruction after the earthquakes

One afternoon in late April, Erdoğan made a campaign appearance in Nurdağı, a community southwest of Adıyaman. He was there to dedicate buildings that the state had built for earthquake victims, and the streets in town were already packed several hours before the president flew in by helicopter, his interior minister and others in tow. On stage, he spoke about how his government intended to rebuild the country following the earthquake. "It will be the largest construction project in the history of the republic," he proclaimed.

But his audience didn't seem particularly interested in what the president had to say. Around half of those present had left before Erdoğan made it to the end of his speech.

For many years in Turkey, there appeared to be a deal in place between Erdoğan and his citizens: You stay out of politics, and I will ensure your prosperity. That deal, though, now seems to be eroding.

In recent years, Erdoğan has destroyed much of what he built up during his initial years in power. That applies particularly to the Turkish economy. The oppression of government critics has scared off investors and Turkey lacks capital for new infrastructure projects. Erdoğan tried to slow the decline by lowering interest rates, but that only made the problems worse.

Inflation in Turkey now stands at 50 percent, higher than in any other G-20 country except for Argentina. Since 2021, the Turkish lira has lost half of its value against the euro.

It's a situation that has made life difficult for businessmen like Muhammed Yılmaz. The 27-year-old had big plans when he took over his father's carpentry business in the central Anatolian city of Kayseri. He wanted to modernize the company and begin selling furniture to Europe. Now, though, the machines in his workshop have fallen silent, with orders coming in at a mere trickle. "I don't know how much longer I can keep going," he says.

Yılmaz grew up in the middle of the Turkish economic miracle in the early 2000s. Erdoğan fundamentally reformed the country's economy when he took power in 2003 and also invested in the country's infrastructure and healthcare system. During his first decade in office, he was able to halve the gap between his country's prosperity and the OECD average. Between 2003 and 2012, investors injected $400 billion in Turkey, more than 10 times as much as in the 20 years prior. Turkey's economy grew at up to 10 percent per year.

Erdoğan gave Turkey a boost at the beginning of his term in office. Now, the country is mired in a severe economic crisis.

Erdoğan gave Turkey a boost at the beginning of his term in office. Now, the country is mired in a severe economic crisis.


Kayseri became a symbol of that rise. The city is seen as the birthplace of the "Anatolian Tigers," that group of Muslim-conservative entrepreneurs who became wealthy under AKP leadership. The city's population has more than tripled to 1.4 million during the 20 years that Erdoğan has been in office. Yılmaz's father produced furniture for a new, prosperous middle class and, his son says today, could hardly keep up with all the orders.

Just 10 years ago, Erdoğan promised to make Turkey one of the world's 10 largest economies by 2023. Since then, though, the country has slid from 17th to 19th place. Per-capita income has dropped from $11,300 to $9,600 – instead of rising to $25,000 as Erdoğan predicted it would.

The extreme inflation currently gripping the country is a catastrophe for business owners like Yılmaz, who depend on raw materials from abroad. For his furniture, Yılmaz buys metal from Russia and wood from Bulgaria. He now has to pay eight times as much as he did just five years ago for a panel of plywood: 1,200 lira, or the equivalent of 60 euros. Back then, he says, almost half of the sales price of a 70-lira chair was profit, once costs were subtracted. These days, though, he says, his profit margin has plummeted to below a tenth of the sales price. Yılmaz is soon to become a father, and he says he has no idea how he is going to provide for his family. Already, he says, his income is barely enough to cover rent.

In the current campaign, Erdoğan is now promising billions in energy subsidies. His government boosted the minimum wage by 55 percent at the beginning of the year and raised the salaries of public servants by 30 percent. Last year, the Turkish Central Bank sold hard currency worth $100 billion in an effort to prop up the lira. But at best, such efforts are likely to provide only temporary relief. What Turkey really needs is an end to low interest rates and a strengthening of the rule of law.

Even in Kayseri, traditionally an AKP stronghold, Erdoğan can no longer be certain of widespread support. Yılmaz, at least, is planning on voting for the opposition. Indeed, it is mostly young people in Turkey who have lost their faith in the government. According to a 2021 survey, almost three-quarters of Turks between the ages of 18 and 25 would leave the country if they had the opportunity.

To her parents, Eda Erdemir says, Erdoğan is a hero. An advocate for Muslims and a father to the nation. "They worship him like a god." She herself, by contrast, sees the president as a problem. "He has robbed the country. He has taken away our freedom."

It's an afternoon in March, and Erdemir is sitting in a café in a mall in Istanbul, a vanilla-strawberry smoothie on the table in front of her. It's Ramadan, but Erdemir isn't fasting. Her hair is dyed blond, and she's wearing jeans, lipstick and earrings.

The 22-year-old is originally from Çorum, a city on the Black Sea where almost two-thirds of residents voted for Erdoğan in 2018. Her father is an imam and her mother a housewife. They raised their daughter religiously and sent her to a Muslim-influenced İmam Hatip school. Contact with boys, says Erdemir, was taboo.

When she got her own mobile phone at 14 and could surf the internet as she pleased, Erdemir began questioning the rules in her family. On social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram, she encountered a world, she says, that was completely different from her own. Girls hung out with boys and got to know other cultures. "I also wanted to lead a life like that," she says.

Unlike her parents, Eda Erdemir is opposed to Erdoğan.

Unlike her parents, Eda Erdemir is opposed to Erdoğan.


Bradley Secker / DER SPIEGEL

Erdemir began distancing herself more and more from her parents. When she stopped wearing a headscarf at age 16, she says, it led to a terrible argument in the family. When she turned 18, she moved to Istanbul for her university studies. Today, she works as a translator for a clinic that performs hair transplants. She only has sporadic contact with her parents.

Many other people her age have had experiences similar to Erdemir's. The country is in the middle of a cultural transformation. Even as Turkey has been governed for more than two decades by the Islamic-conservative AKP, a study performed in 2018 by the public opinion pollsters at KONDA found that religious devotion in the country is falling. Whereas 55 percent of survey participants described themselves as religious in 2008, that number had fallen to 51 percent 10 years later.

The generational gap could prove decisive in this election. Those aged 18 to 25 constitute around 12 percent of the electorate, and one survey indicates that only 18 percent of them intend to vote for the AKP.

Erdemir only knows about the time before Erdoğan from her parents' stories. It was an era during which Turkey, following the 1923 founding of the modern republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, was almost continuously governed by the secular elite, who looked down on the strictly religious rural population.

Erdoğan was able to put an end to the rule of the Kemalists. He ensured that devout Muslims were given more rights and more visibility. Headscarf bans at Turkish universities were lifted and a new, conservative middle class developed in the Anatolian heartland.

Many people from the generation of Erdemir's parents and grandparents are still grateful to Erdoğan for these achievements. In their view, he gave them back their dignity. And they are deeply mistrustful of the opposition, in particular Atatürk's Republican People's Party (CHP), which they view as being anti-religious.

Özer Sencar, head of the Turkish public opinion institute Metropoll, says that Erdoğan can still almost blindly rely on the support of almost a third of the Turkish electorate.

Millions of people see Erdoğan as the man who made Turkey strong, a leader who speaks at eye level with rulers like Russian President Vladimir Putin, sells drones around the world and has a say in conflict regions like Syria and Somalia. The AKP's slogan for this election is "The Turkish century."

Many AKP supporters have also seen their standard of living drop in recent years, but they don't blame Erdoğan. Instead, they point the finger at Turkey's purported enemies: the West, the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and the Gülen movement – just as government propaganda has done over the past several years.

For Erdemir and many others of her age, though, the privileges they grew up with are completely normal, and they are more likely to see the disadvantages that come with Erdoğan's regime. In Erdemir's world, Erdoğan has curtailed her rights. In 2013, for example, he violently crushed the protests in and around Gezi Park in Istanbul and, more recently, withdrew Turkey from the European convention for protecting women from violence.

Erdoğan is not only interested in being Turkey's political leader, he also wants to shape the country in accordance with his views. He once promised his followers he would raise a "devout generation." But after more than two decades of AKP rule, it has become clear that urbanization, digitalization and globalization have changed Turkish society to a greater degree than Erdoğanization.

Erdoğan may still dominate Turkey's image in the world, but a generation has grown up under him that is urbane, globally networked and unwilling to be told what to do and think. It is a generation that he doesn't know and doesn't understand.

The man who hopes to go down in history as the vanquisher of the thus-far invincible Erdoğan receives his guests at CHP's headquarters in Ankara. His office is big, bright and welcoming. Unsurprisingly, Atatürk is everywhere – in the form of photos, paintings and busts. To the right of his desk, though, is also a painting he received from a mentally handicapped artist he received in his office three years ago. It is a colorful, happy and chaotic world, full of flowers, beetles and people who don't look as though they take themselves too seriously. It seems like the precise opposite of the ordered, disciplined Turkey that Atatürk envisioned.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is wearing a dark suit and a white shirt, with a small evil eye hanging from a red-and-white band on his slender wrist. A good-luck charm. He skips the small talk: "Let's get started," he says. During our interview, which lasts just short of an hour, he won't even lean back into his chair a single time. "We no longer want to be a third-class democracy," he says.

At first glance, Kılıçdaroğlu seems rather low key and understated. He never raises his voice and remains calm no matter what he's talking about. When asked what would happen in the event of a victory for his alliance, he says with a grin: "Then spring will finally arrive." One shouldn't be misled by his grandpa-like image: He's quick-witted and tough when the situation calls for it.

Presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in front of a portrait of Atatürk: "We no longer want to be a third-class democracy."

Presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in front of a portrait of Atatürk: "We no longer want to be a third-class democracy."

Foto: Bradley Secker / picture alliance/dpa

Kılıçdaroğlu, 74, was born in the Tunceli Province in eastern Anatolia. His father was a civil servant, and he grew up with six siblings in a home with no electricity. His older brother Yusuf Ziya Kılıçdaroğlu describes him as a clever, shy child who valued harmony. The politician still has close links to his hometown, and during visits to Tunceli, he spends the night in his brother's three-room apartment. "Kemal doesn't need luxury," says Yusuf Ziya Kılıçdaroğlu.

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu made a name for himself in Ankara as a financial adviser who fought against corruption before he was elected to parliament in 2002 for the CHP. Eight years later, he became the party's leader.

Under his leadership, the CHP has never received much more than 25 percent of the vote. In 2014, he threw his support behind a presidential candidate who didn't stand a chance, and in 2018, he chose a party ally, who also lost, to run against Erdoğan. His name was Muharrem İnce, an explosive, ex-physics teacher who left the party after his defeat and is now running in this election as well. İnce is likely to win some of the opposition vote, making it probable that Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan will meet in a May 28 run-off election.

Kılıçdaroğlu managed to anger many in the Turkish opposition in 2016, when he convinced the CHP to agree to lifting the immunity of parliamentarians. Many of his party allies also thought this concession to the government was a mistake, and it led to dozens of investigations being launched against members of parliament, most of them members of the left-wing, pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) and of the CHP. But when a member of his party was arrested in 2017, Kılıçdaroğlu walked the 420 kilometers (261 miles) from Ankara to Istanbul in protest, a journey that took him 25 days. The sign he carried read "adalet," justice.

"The opposition of today is better prepared than ever before."

Former HDP head Selahattin Demirtaş

Kılıçdaroğlu has managed to unite six opposition parties in a formation dubbed the "Table of Six" that couldn't be more different – and all of them are to the right of the CHP, including the secular-nationalist İyi Party under Meral Akşener and two parties led by former AKP top politicians. The liberal-conservative Democracy and Progressive Party (DEVA) under Ali Babacan, who served as both foreign and economy minister under Erdoğan, and the Islamic-conservative Future Party (Gelecek) of former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.

Among the important political parties represented in parliament, only the left-wing HDP wasn't invited to join the opposition alliance, even though it is the second-largest opposition party. It was likely a decision made to avoid alienating voters who may not like Kurds. But nobody can win an election in Turkey without the Kurds, which is why Kılıçdaroğlu is courting the HDP as well.

"The Kurds can take a pro-democracy position as a block. As such, they will definitely determine the result of the election. And their preference is certainly not Erdoğan," wrote former HDP co-head Selahattin Demirtaş to DER SPIEGEL from prison in Edirne, where he has spent the last six-and-a-half years behind bars for allegedly supporting terrorism. HDP has not sent a candidate of its own into the race. In late April, party leadership threw its support behind Kılıçdaroğlu.

"The opposition of today is better prepared than ever before," Demirtaş believes. "For the first time in 20 years, it is able to act together. Erdoğan will definitely lose this time."

A banner with an Atatürk portrait in Istanbul: In the 100th year of its existence, Turkey is at a crossroads.

A banner with an Atatürk portrait in Istanbul: In the 100th year of its existence, Turkey is at a crossroads.

Foto: Francisco Seco / AP

Still, it wouldn't be domestic Turkish politics if the Kılıçdaroğlu alliance hadn't already almost fallen apart once. In March, İyi Party leader Akşener went before the press to say that she couldn't support Kılıçdaroğlu as a presidential candidate and called on the CHP mayors of Istanbul and Ankara to run instead. Not 72 hours later, Kılıçdaroğlu presented the two mayors as his future deputies should he be elected president. Akşener returned to the alliance as if nothing had happened.

That incident says a lot about Kılıçdaroğlu, and about how politics might look under his leadership: not totally free of conflict, but eager for accommodation. He certainly has a sense for power but seems to understand that gaining and maintaining it cannot be done without compromise. And that compromises are a sign of political ability and not of weakness.

Kılıçdaroğlu is seen as a beacon of hope for many people who would like to see Turkey enter a new era. He presents himself as a normal citizen, with many of his campaign videos being shot in his own kitchen – a clear contrast to Erdoğan's palace. In early April, a video showed him sitting at his kitchen table holding an onion in front of the camera, condemning the incredibly high food prices in the country. He doesn't raise his voice or insult anybody – thus representing a different kind of masculinity. He's not a "kabadayı," the type of hard-boiled, middle-aged man who struts pridefully through the neighborhood, but a polite man of a different sort. One who may sound a bit like a know-it-all, but who is anything but evil.

Erdoğan is still the best political campaigner in Turkey, but even as he has seemed tired and sluggish of late, his five-year-older challenger seems to never run out of energy. Erdoğan simply has nothing left to say," says Kılıçdaroğlu, smiling in the knowledge that it was a well-landed political punch. "He has lost the ability to govern well."

A measure of Kılıçdaroğlu's current confidence was a video he posted on Twitter in April in which he talked about his faith. "I am an Alevi," he said, as though it were the most normal thing in the world. In actuality, though, he broke a taboo.

Empfohlener externer Inhalt
An dieser Stelle finden Sie einen externen Inhalt von Twitter, der den Artikel ergänzt und von der Redaktion empfohlen wird. Sie können ihn sich mit einem Klick anzeigen lassen und wieder ausblenden.
Externer Inhalt

Ich bin damit einverstanden, dass mir externe Inhalte angezeigt werden. Damit können personenbezogene Daten an Drittplattformen übermittelt werden. Mehr dazu in unserer Datenschutzerklärung.

Most of the 85 million people in Turkey are Sunni Muslims, with the estimated 25 million Alevis a minority. In contrast to Sunnis and Shiites, Alevis don't go to the mosque, don't perform the haj and don't fast during Ramadan. They primarily worship the Prophet Muhammad's son-in-law Ali and his descendants. In Turkey, the Alevis have frequently been the focus of discrimination and attacks. Even today, people say the most absurd things about Alevis, such as that they engage in incestuous relationships.

All of that helps explain why Kılıçdaroğlu long avoided any discussion of that part of his identity. In the past, it was generally accepted that Alevi politicians had nothing to gain in talking about their faith. But with the video, Kılıçdaroğlu decided to confront the issue head on – and it was a huge success. The video has been played around 35 million times.

"Identity makes us what we are, and we should of course honor that," Kılıçdaroğlu says in the video. "We can't choose our own heredity, we are born with it. But there are extremely important things in our lives that we can choose. Being a good person. Being honest. Having a conscience."

The video makes for a touching and bracing three minutes. For the Erdoğan challenger, it was a kind of Obama moment. In Turkey, a self-proclaimed Alevi has never held a top public post. But now, in the 100th year of the republic, that no longer seems to be an impossibility.

In the opposition, there are nevertheless quite a few people who think that the elections could, despite everything, still be manipulated. During the conversation in his office, however, Kılıçdaroğlu seeks to downplay such worries. There will be observers standing next to every voting station, more than 200,000 of them across the country, he says, along with lawyers at every polling site.

If Kılıçdaroğlu does win the election, he first intends to take a close look at the Turkish budget and see where money can be saved. "Erdoğan has 16 airplanes. We will immediately sell all 16 of them," he says. Political prisoners like Demirtaş and the philanthropist Osman Kavala will likely be released.

"Who actually wants a leader with a scepter in his hand?"

Opposition politician Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu

Furthermore, the opposition has presented a plan of action for unwinding the presidential system put in place by Erdoğan and returning to a democracy in which parliament has the power. To obtain the constitutional amendment required for such a change, the opposition would need the support of two-thirds of parliament, which they aren't likely to win in this month's election. As such, they will likely need to win over some AKP lawmakers for the reform, or hold a referendum. Kılıçdaroğlu, though, seems very sure of what he is trying to do. "Even people who don't think the same way we do want democracy," he says. "Who actually wants a leader with a scepter in his hand?"

During his time in power, Erdoğan has led Turkey away from the West and toward Russia and China. Under Kılıçdaroğlu, it seems likely that Turkey could abandon its reservations about Sweden's accession to NATO and move ahead with negotiations on the expansion of the customs union. Even a revival of Turkey's EU-accession talks is possible. But there are other issues where he would likely follow the path of his predecessor. Turkey, for example, would likely stay true to its uncompromising position on the banned Kurdish Workers' Party in Syria and in northern Iraq. Conflicts such as the maritime border with Greece or the standoff in Cyprus also wouldn't likely go away overnight under new Turkish leadership.

The greatest challenge Kılıçdaroğlu is likely to face if he gets elected, however, would be restoring peace in Turkish society. There is hardly anyone in Turkey who doesn't complain about the deep polarization that runs through the country. In recent years, an atmosphere has taken hold in which it has either been extremely loud or extremely quiet. Either there was conflict, primarily led by the man at the top. Or there was silence, because most people are afraid to voice their opinions out of fear of repression.

The most popular political talk show in the country – called "Mevzular Açık Mikrofon" or "Open Microphone" – is a good place to go to learn of the unanswered questions, the worries, the fears and the hopes that are currently occupying the people of Turkey.

Usually, just a single guest is invited to appear on the show, important politicians or party leaders who answer questions posed by the audience. The idea is to confront the politicians with critical questions asked by people who are not necessarily their followers. It isn't shown on television, since it is likely that no broadcaster would be brave enough to air such a format. Rather, it can be seen on YouTube.

"We wanted people to finally be able to voice their opinions openly, to ask their questions," says Oğuzhan Uğur, the host of the show. Our discussion takes place in the offices of his production company, BaBaLa TV, located in a vast vacant building complex with an absurdly purple façade. The team is young and there is a lot of cigarette smoke in the air. In one corner is a pool table, in the other, a conference room.

Talk show host Oğuzhan Uğur: "We wanted people to finally be able to voice their opinions openly."

Talk show host Oğuzhan Uğur: "We wanted people to finally be able to voice their opinions openly."

Foto: Yusuf Sayman / DER SPIEGEL

After every episode, the show is a major topic of discussion on the internet. Its audience is mostly young. How does Uğur explain its success? "We sensed a need. Since everywhere else, everything seems to proceed according to a certain script. Everyone only appears on the television programs that support them. And they only answer the questions of their supporters in a manner that is only helpful to them. So, we said: OK, but is that also how the rest of the population thinks?"

On Uğur's show, audience members can grab the microphone and ask questions. The show runs for six hours or even longer, and the moderator insists that no questions are edited out later.

Uğur, who is wearing a black T-shirt, black jogging pants and sneakers, actually studied art. His father once held one of the most important positions in the security apparatus and was even involved in interrogating former PKK leader Abdullah Öcalan.

For young Turks, Uğur represents everything that the country's leaders are not: He is cool; he isn't corruptible because, as he says, he doesn't aspire to any political office; and he uses social media like they do. He is also funny and doesn't take himself too seriously, even airing clips where not everything goes according to plan. Most importantly, though, he has created a space where people can express themselves.

Recently, Muharrem İnce was a guest on the show, the man who used to be in the CHP but who is now, with his tiny party, running against Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential elections. He was faced with the question as to whether his behavior could be considered disloyal.

An AKP politician had to answer a question as to whether his party had established a "hegemony of fear" in the country intentionally, or whether it had just happened by chance.

The atmosphere on the show isn't always civilized, friendly and humorous. Every now and then, people lose their tempers. As such, the show is a rather perfect reflection of Turkey. A mirror, as Uğur says. The best thing for him, he says, is seeing the glow in the eyes of the young audience members, who have gone through so much. An attempted putsch. The coronavirus. Inflation. Natural disasters. Here, they are "finally recognized by our politicians as conversation partners. That's what I like the best," Uğur says.

On one recent show, Turks argued with Kurds – apparently about Atatürk and one of his most famous statements: "How happy is the one who can say: I am a Turk!" Two young Kurds were apparently forced out of the studio. Uğur, the son of a Turkish soldier, brought them back, spoke with them onstage and calmed the situation. Laughter returned.

Who knows. Turkey itself may soon be a bit more like this studio.

Die Wiedergabe wurde unterbrochen.
Speichern Sie Ihre Lieblingsartikel in der persönlichen Merkliste, um sie später zu lesen und einfach wiederzufinden.
Jetzt anmelden
Sie haben noch kein SPIEGEL-Konto? Jetzt registrieren
Mehrfachnutzung erkannt
Bitte beachten Sie: Die zeitgleiche Nutzung von SPIEGEL+-Inhalten ist auf ein Gerät beschränkt. Wir behalten uns vor, die Mehrfachnutzung zukünftig technisch zu unterbinden.
Sie möchten SPIEGEL+ auf mehreren Geräten zeitgleich nutzen? Zu unseren Angeboten