Turkey ahead of elections: From promises of free internet for youth to political raki commercials


“Promise for you! 5 GB monthly internet will be free for young people,” is a message on one of many billboards on the streets of Istanbul placed by opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu ahead of the Turkish presidential elections scheduled for May 14. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan soon responded.  Via TV commercials under the slogan “Continue with the right steps” the incumbent president promises 10 GB of free internet per month for young people, as well as tax breaks for purchase of mobile phones and computers.

Promise of 5 GB free internet per month by opposition candidate on the streets of Istanbul, Turkey. Photo: Meta.mk.

In the week before the presidential and parliamentary elections, Turkish citizens experience election frenzy as billboards and television commercials abound with promises. The promises of free internet are music for voters’ ears, as the country experienced 64.27 percent inflation at the end of 2022.

Analysts find it hard to predict the outcome of the upcoming elections, considering the narrow margins between candidates Kılıçdaroğlu and Erdoğan on the opinion polls conducted ahead of the voting on May 14. Quite possibly there would be second round of the presidential elections on May 28, if none of the candidates wins over 50 percent of the votes during the first round.

TV in Turkey with TRT on, featuring a political TV show and advertisement by Erdoğan. Photo by Meta.mk.
“Continue with the right steps” – Erdoğan’s slogan with a promise of 10 GB free internet for youth, on a Turkish TV station TRT. Photo by Meta.mk.

People walking the streets and squares of Istanbul are exposed to political messages by various election candidates. Meta.mk camera noticed that the central part of the biggest Turkish city, on the European side of the Bosporus, most of the political advertisments are by opposition candidate Kılıçdaroğlu, while billboards and other advertising devices promoting Erdoğan seem more visible on the Asian side and on the outskirts. Such placing is understandable given the need of candidates to invest in mobilizing their traditional electorates.

National flags of Turkey, flags with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and flags of local municipality in Beyoğlu (Pera) district, in the European part of Istanbul. Photo by Meta.mk.
Patriotic flags set by the local municipality on Istiklal street in Beyoğlu (Pera) district, in the European part of Istanbul. Photo by Meta.mk.

It seems that the decisive part of the electorate will be the voters who had no prior affiliation with political parties, and who are targeted by the promises for future development of Turkey, secularism versus religious influence on political issues, democracy versus  authoritarianism, or more simply, the dramatic choice between East and West.

“The youth want democracy,” Kılıçdaroğlu told the BBC. “They don’t want the police to come to their doors early in the morning just because they tweeted.”

The the 74-year-old leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) promises youth that he will bring democracy and freedom of expression to Turkey, enabling them to criticize him freely when he becomes president.

BBC notes that others aren’t so sure. There are indications that the Turkish leader may be preparing to dispute the result if he loses. Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu has warned the vote will be “a coup attempt by the West”.

Meanwhile, the famous Turkish alcohol brand, Yeni Raki, released a new commercial with some political undertones, which caused quite a stir, Global Voices reports.

The ad targets an international audience and the Turkish diaspora since the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) introduced bans on alcohol advertisements in 2013. There is, however, a potential subtext for those living in Turkey and the country’s observers. The commercial starts with the question: “How will you celebrate when that day comes?”

Even though officially Yeni Raki published the video ahead of the celebration of 100th anniversary since the founding of the Republic of Turkey scheduled for October 29, 2023, many social network users interpreted the commercial as referring to the results of the May 14 elections.

The video is filled with dance moves, lots of smiles, and singing, though arguably the most powerful moment is near the end of the ad, when a woman looks at the camera and says she will celebrate by going back. Many interpreted it as a message to all expat Turks — especially those who have left Turkey in recent years as a result of the lack of economic opportunities and increasing conservatism.

Louis Fishman, a long-time Turkey observer, tweeted: “‘When that day comes’ is the latest (bold) ad for Turkey’s alcohol brand, Yeni Raki, suggesting to the viewer it’s over the sheer joy of an opposition win in the upcoming elections but then reveals it’s actually celebrating the Republic’s centennial.” Another Twitter user pointed out, the centennial celebrations were six months away, and yet, Yeni Raki released the ad three weeks before the election.

Incumbent Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attributed historical significante to his rule during one of his public speeches. At an AKP meeting in Erzurum, in Eastern Anatolia, he said that during the last 21 years while he is in power, they managed to achieve all that had been lacking in the previous 80 year. He reminded that they’ve managed to pay off the entire debt to the International Monetary Fund. Many conservative voters support his positions, while the global public awaits the uncertain outcome of the upcoming vote at the presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey.

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