Election fever has been in the air since… well, before I got here. I was used to the Koreans making a literal song and dance about election season, but they now seem quite calm and reserved compared to the political parties of Turkey.
Every borough/neighbourhood is draped in thousands of streamers belonging to one politician or another. I don’t actually know yet what my neighbourhood looks like underneath said streamers, for this is what Istanbul has looked like the entire time I’ve been here.
And the noise – oh, the noise. They drive around in vehicles blasting their political messages to all and sundry, much like the politicians do in Northern Ireland. However, the Turks are not content with a normal car with a megaphone on the top – no, they have everything from heavily-decorated vans to gigantic lorries complete with flashing disco lights. They play loud music, and when I say loud music, I mean a deafening roar of twangy traditional Turkish folky sounds set to a dance beat. With a politician yelling over it.
All. Day. Long.
When they drive past my school I have to pause my lesson, because it’s impossible to be heard over the “music” and shouting that seems determined to drown out every conscious thought other than “vote for me!”. I have mentioned, in moments of headachy annoyance, that if I were Turkish and could both vote and understand what they were saying, I would very deliberately choose not to vote for anyone connected with the noisy monster trucks of doom which seem so hellbent on assaulting my eardrums on a daily basis.
Anyway, now it’s finally election weekend, and while this apparently means that I have a Monday off work, and that the noisy lorries are possibly going to STFU at long last, it also means that I am sitting here listening to the hum of the generator currently powering my building, as this mind-blowingly paranoid government has decided to cut off the electricity in the areas where votes are currently being counted, and surround the local primary schools (serving as counting stations) with Erdogan’s minions.
This Erdogan guy is a laugh a minute, eh? I first heard of him during the Gezi Park protest horrors of last year, and I have honestly heard nothing since coming here that paints him in a more positive light. He is a dictator, and he throws his toys out of the pram and sulks when someone criticises him – although, unfortunately for Turkey, his childish tantrums are a lot more sinister than those of the average spoilt 2-year-old. I’ve felt the effects of the tear gas for myself. The outrage over police brutality and gradual government infringement on civil liberties is all around, in the form of almost daily protests, most of which are turned into full-scale riots when the police wade in with unnecessary heavy-handedness to crush resistance to Erdogan’s government.
They blocked Twitter last week. Just… blocked it. Not very successfully, mind you, as anyone who uses Twitter generally knows of a few ways to get around obstacles like that, but still. Twitter is officially unavailable here now. Threats were made about Facebook and YouTube, but I couldn’t quite believe it all the same, when I went on to YouTube to find a video suitable for my next day’s classes and saw that one of my most valuable teaching tools had also bitten the dust.
The most alarming thing of all is that I’m suddenly realising that the election is probably not, as I assumed, going to kick Erdogan out on his ass and sort everything out. I don’t know anything about politics, of course, but when I saw frequent mass riots, demonstrations and protests against the government, outrage over police brutality, public fury over Erdogan’s sweeping decisions which have been gradually removing one freedom after another… I just assumed that he’d got no chance of winning an election. Everybody’s furious with him, surely?
And yet the news I’m seeing coming in on the initial counts is that his party has taken “a strong lead in local elections Sunday, despite turbulent months marked by mass protests, corruption scandals and Internet blocks.”
Corruption? Fraud? Staunch supporters? Voter intimidation? What the hell is going on here?!
Seriously, Northern Ireland is starting to seem politically stable and sane to me, these days.