Turkey is holding general elections on June 24, when voters will elect 600 members of parliament. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is running for reelection for the first time since a 2017 constitutional referendum made the president both the head of state and the head of government. Erdogan has been in power since he was elected prime minister in 2003. One of the candidates in his Justice and Development Party is 23-year-old journalist Emir Eksioglu, who would become the youngest member of parliament if elected.
Can you describe what you are a candidate for?
Yes, I'm the parliamentary candidate from the province of Hakkari, which borders Iran and Iraq. The thing that makes it different is that while I'm from the western part of the country, I'm a candidate for the easternmost province. As you know, this area has a huge terrorism problem.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I was born in Istanbul but my family is from Rize. President Erdogan and Speaker of the Parliament İsmail Kahraman are from Rize as well. I contributed to some important international press institutions and some articles of mine have been translated into several languages. I was also presented as the "youngest media boss" of Turkey thanks to some of my investments. Since I don't find the Turkish media to be sufficient, I mostly write my pieces for international press. I have important projects concerning technology and media and I'm working on them.
Is this your first time running for office?
The minimum age to be eligible for election used to be 25, but now it is 18. Therefore, I couldn't have participated in previous elections even if I wanted to.
Why did you decide to run?
I wanted to be the candidate of Hakkari, which is the least impressive province of Turkey in terms of security, prosperity, safety, social life and education because this province needs a lot of work compared to the others. I see my candidacy as a social responsibility project. It wouldn't be wrong to call Hakkari "the Africa of Turkey." My goal is to turn this province, whose name is being mentioned alongside PKK terrorism for years, into the software center of the Middle East, because the percentage of the young-aged population in this province is the highest in all Turkey.
I also want to create a new understanding of politics. The politicians should work toward serving their country and humanity instead of their personal goals. I'm being shown as one of the most successful young people of the country and I believe that politics can be done in a natural and a trustworthy environment. That's why I wanted to be the AK Party candidate from Hakkari since no candidate of theirs was elected as an MP from Hakkari and I think I can show my honesty to the people of the city. I'm sure I can end the PKK and HDP hegemony in the city.
Can you describe some specifics of your speeches or statements?
I get a lot of looks just walking in the streets of Hakkari because the people here are not used to seeing different people around. It's not something that can be explained in words, you have to experience it for yourself. It is very saddening to see the life and the people here as someone coming from a big city. I am talking to these people not like a politician but like a young journalist, and I explain to them how I can improve their living standards.
What are the main problems facing Turkey today?
Terrorism is the biggest problem of Turkey. But I should mention that there have recently been important developments against this problem. Apart from that we have the problems of unemployment and the inability to keep the young population happy. Lastly, we also have a lack of vision which is unfortunately seen a lot both in politics and media.
How do you reach out to voters in Turkey?
A big advantage that us journalists have is the power to express ourselves to large groups. I haven't done any studies concerning all Turkey, but seeing news about my candidacy in many places from Pakistan to the USA makes me really happy.
Do you think the AKP will win this election?
Not just me but even the opposition thinks the AK Party will win this election. AK Party has become stronger by making an alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party [MHP]. The Republican People's Party [CHP] has not improved itself even though they are the main opposition party and even their own voters don't think they'll win the election. I think they have a huge problem in terms of democracy and understanding. Iyi Party is a very recent party and I think their goal will be passing the 10% threshold and gaining seats at the parliament.
Is the economy the biggest issue for voters?
Absolutely. The economy should be an issue for the voters. Turkey has economic advances and developments but the constant loss of value of the lira against the dollar and the euro worries people. I think some economical changes will solve this. Turkey is one of the fastest-growing countries after all. If the economy is going bad and the people aren't saying anything – that would be catastrophic for the future of the country.
Are voters concerned about conflict in Syria and also conflict within Turkey, terrorism, etc.?
Unfortunately, terrorism is an issue in this country for the last 40 years. We shouldn't have to get used to it. If the people see a terrorist attack as a usual thing that might have very bad results. There have been serious operations against the PKK in these past years and the people are happy with the decisive stand of the government. The operations in Syria like Afrin were important developments which won many votes for the government. But of course, the main goal of these operations is not gaining votes but ensuring the security of the country. The only party which benefits from terrorism in Turkey is HDP and I think they will be really surprised after the election.
Turkey today has concerns about US policy and has recently been meeting with Iran and Russia. How do you see Turkey's global role today?
Turkey doesn't use the phrase "The World is bigger than five" just for the sake of it. That phrase is also the opinion of the government in foreign relations. Russia, Israel and the USA are all equally important countries for Turkey. Surely, there are people who try to put Turkey on one side but that is not the reality of the situation. Turkey moves more pragmatically in this manner. But the USA, an ally of Turkey, openly supporting terrorist organizations against Turkey caused us to have more meetings with Russia. In my opinion, this is not a fault of Turkey, but rather a grave strategical error by the USA.
Turkey has relations with Israel but they have been difficult over the last decade. How do you see Turkey's relations with Israel?
Israel is a country that the whole world should take as an example in some areas: International prestige; its support for science, technology and R&D; being a great power with a small population are some of them. Israel and Turkey both need each other. We're not living in old times anymore. The world is changing and politics should adapt... to change. But the Palestinian issue is a red line for Turkey and the biggest conflict in bilateral relations between the two countries. The prosperity of the people of Palestine is very important for Turkey.
Seth Frantzman is a writing fellow at the Middle East Forum