The campaign of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government for the March 31 local elections will go down in history as the most polarizing campaign with the most virulent and offensive rhetoric that Turkey has seen under the Justice and Development Party (AKP). In no election before has the government employed religion and religion-based polarization so blatantly. The campaign has been marked also by unprecedented threats to opposition leaders and candidates as well as an apparent intent to not accept election results. Government spokesmen have virtually competed to delegitimize the opposition, seeking to keep their base intact by scaring voters with a demonized portrait of political opponents. The main cause of this extraordinary political syndrome is Turkey’s plunge into economic recession, which, coupled with a rising cost of living and growing unemployment, has raised the specter of the AKP losing the elections in big cities.
The syndrome climaxed after the March 15 mosque massacres in Christchurch, New Zealand, marking the coarsest exploitation of religion and religion-based polarization that Turkey has ever seen in electioneering.