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Turkey elections: For millions of housewives, Erdogan is still number one

Housewives believe Erdogan and his AK Party are closer to their social priorities and religious values than the opposition
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a campaign rally in Ankara, 30 April 2023 (AFP)
By Yusuf Selman Inanc in Istanbul, Turkey

Out of the 64 million registered citizens eligible to vote in Turkey’s upcoming elections on 14 May, approximately 11 million are housewives.

This silent, low-profile social group may turn out to be the kingmaker in the neck-to-neck elections, according to recent polls. 

Both Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the opposition’s joint presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu realise this and have promised policies specifically intended to secure their votes. 

For example, the AK Party promised in its election manifesto that housewives would benefit from pensions covered by the state, just like working citizens.

“The state will compensate one-third of the pension liability,” the statement read, adding that housewives would be regarded in the same way as workers doing hard labour. 

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Similarly, Kilicdaroglu declared in a video that he would introduce Family Support Insurance, which would provide social aid to families with no income or earning less than the minimum wage.

“Also, we will open gold accounts in participation banks [that operate without applying or distributing interest] for housewives. The insurance money will be deposited to their accounts in the currency of gold,” he said

Kilicdaroglu also underlined his understanding that most housewives are religious and would like to have their accounts in interest-free banks as earning interest is forbidden in Islam. 

However, Oguz Kaan Salici, Kilicdaroglu’s deputy, said their party was still not as successful as it should have been.

“We still couldn’t convince most of the housewives, but our efforts continue,” he said during a press meeting in late April. 

The number one choice

The opposition certainly seem to have a difficult task ahead of them.

If previous elections are a guide, it's clear that most housewives prefer Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AK Party). 

According to polls conducted by IPSOS Turkey during the 2018 elections, Erdogan was the number-one choice among housewives.

Additional research by KONDA Research and Consultancy provided more detail: in previous presidential elections more than half of housewives voted for Erdogan, while only 11 percent voted for the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Underlining the significance of the traditional family structure, Erdogan has vehemently opposed abortion, divorce, and the growing LGBTQ+ movement.

'Nobody can expect me to vote for CHP despite the fact that we have been coping with economic hardship'

- Feride Gur, housewife

In 2021, Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention, an international treaty to prevent violence against women, on the grounds that it would harm the family structure.

Moreover, there have been calls from the government and its conservative allies to make changes to a law that provides protection to women against domestic violence. 

It seems Erdogan remains the housewives' choice. 

Feride Gur (55), a housewife and mother of two, said she would not change her political allegiance despite Turkey's ongoing financial crisis, which has seen the lira plummet and inflation soar.

“Nobody can expect me to vote for CHP despite the fact that we have been coping with economic hardship,” she told Middle East Eye.

Recounting the first day of her daughter’s registration to university back in 2006, Gur explains why she would vote for Erdogan.

“My daughter was successful in securing a spot at a top university in Istanbul. I was excited to accompany her on the first day. When we reached the university, the security said: ‘Hey lady! You can’t enter inside!’

"I had just wanted to enter the campus, the garden. After a while the security came back and announced that all veiled women had to wait down the road not in front of the gate.” 

“This was the result of CHP policies.

“Now, who can guarantee that they would not go back to their essential policies?” 

Veil ban

This strong support for Erdogan is not only related to the lifting of a decades-long ban on veil, but it is also linked to social services.

Through its separate women's branch, the AK Party has introduced several social aid programs that particularly target nonworking women, in addition to providing child benefit payments and salaries for those caring for the elderly, which can include a woman’s parents or parents-in-law.

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The amount of social aid varies according to a woman’s circumstances, such as being a widow or having a disabled child. 

“Any policy that is useful in the fields of health, childcare, elderly care or education lures the votes from housewives,” Feyza Akinerdem, a researcher at Bogazici University said.

“Women are alone in taking the burden of health and education of core and extended family members.” 

“Indeed,” Akinerdem continued, “the political concepts or disputes are not of interest to them. They look at what touches their daily lives.” 

In addition, lifting the ban on the veil in 2013 was of huge symbolic significance for  many housewives, meaning that women wearing the hijab could not only to attend universities, but also work in state institutions. 

Similar to Gur, Betul Yurekli, a housewife and mother of two daughters, expressed reservations about the CHP due to its past support for the ban on hijab, a position it only changed last year.

“I never thought about attending university since I would never take off my scarf. But I know that if Erdogan remains in power, my daughters, aged four and seven, will be able to go to secondary, high school and university with their scarves.”  

'They are not like us'

In addition to lifting of the hijab ban, for many housewives the quality of state or municipal services is another important driver of political choice, according to Akinerdem, who recently conducted field research.

“Since 2019, the Istanbul Municipality has been opening kindergartens and delivering the ‘mother card’ for free transportation. Rather than talking about other issues that prevail in Turkey’s daily agenda, women always mention their pleasure with these two services.” 

For Yurekli, these services are helpful, but, she added, the AK Party “has been providing more for decades".

“For instance, they organise trips to spiritual centres of our city [Istanbul] for free," she says. "Also, we can ask the municipality to give us a room in municipality-owned buildings to carry out religious ceremonies such as reciting the Quran on Fridays.

“Or, one of neighbours can simply call the service desk at the Fatih municipality [run by the AK Party] to help her with taking her father to the dialysis centre.” 

'They feel they belong to the social faction represented by the AK Party not CHP'

- Feyza Akinerdem, researcher

Akinerdem believes CHP’s promises might fail to convince housewives because they “feel comfortable with their current lives".

“They feel they belong to the social faction represented by the AK Party not CHP,” she said. 

“They [CHP] are not like us. We are religious people, adhering to our traditions and family.” 

When it comes to one of the other major issues at this election - Turkey's acute economic crisis - even though some women expressed concern at the situation, they still didn't believe there was a strong alternative to Erdogan who could deal with it effectively.

“Our living standards have been ruined since the pandemic,” Gur said, but added that Erdogan still seemed to her to be the only leader in the country. "If there were any other candidate with such capability and respect for our values, I would change my choice,” she said.

Meanwhile, Yurekli believes a CHP-led government would not be able to overcome the crisis.

Akinerdem said housewives are disappointed with their decreasing purchasing power.

“Still, economic problems do not fundamentally change their political choice unless they directly become subject of a corruption or injustice,” she said. 

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