Ankara, Turkey — Voters in Turkey went back to the polls on Sunday to decide whether the country’s longtime leader would extend his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade or be ousted. overthrown by a challenger who promised to restore a more democratic society.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for 20 years, is backed to win a new five-year term in the second round of elections after winning the first round by a margin on Sunday. May 14.
The divisive populist, who turned his country into a geopolitical player, finished ahead of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the six-party coalition candidate and leader of the centre-left opposition party. of Turkey, four percentage points. Mr. Erdogan’s achievement defies crippling inflation and the impact of the devastating earthquake three months ago.
Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo), a 74-year-old former official, described the vote as a referendum on the future of the country.
More than 64 million people are eligible to vote. Polling stations open at 8am
Turkey does not have opinion polls, but preliminary results are expected within hours after polls close at 5pm.
The final decision could have implications far beyond Ankara as Turkey stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and plays a pivotal role in NATO.
Turkey vetoed Sweden’s offer to join the alliance and buy Russian missile defense systems, which prompted the United States to exclude Turkey from the US-led project to build a fighter jet. . But Erdogan’s government also helped broker a crucial deal that would allow Ukraine to ship grain and avert a global food crisis.
The May 14 election had a voter turnout of 87% and is expected to see strong participation again on Sunday, reflecting voters’ devotion to the local elections. a country where freedom of speech and assembly has been suppressed.
If he wins, Mr. Erdogan, 69, could stay in power until 2028. After three terms as prime minister and two terms as president, the devout Muslim leader heads the Justice Party and Conservative and Religious Development, or AKP, has been Turkey’s longest-serving leader. .
The first half of Erdogan’s term included reforms that allowed the country to begin negotiations to join the European Union and economic growth that lifted many people out of poverty. But then he turned to the suppression of freedoms and the media, and concentrated more power in his own hands, especially after a failed coup attempt that Turkey blamed on religion. American Muslim artist Fethullah Gulen staged. The cleric denied involvement.
Erdogan transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role to an office of power through a 2017 referendum with a narrow victory, scrapping Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance. Ky. He was the first directly elected president in 2014 and won the 2018 election that ushered in the executive presidency.
The May 14 election was the first that Erdogan did not win outright.
Critics blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for soaring inflation and triggering a cost-of-living crisis. Many also blamed his government for its slow response to an earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Türkiye.
However, Mr. Erdogan still won the support of conservative voters, who still support him wholeheartedly for raising the profile of Islam in a country founded on secular and uplifting principles. influence of the country in world politics.
In an effort to appeal to voters hit hard by inflation, he increased wages and pensions as well as subsidized electricity and gas bills, and introduced defense industry and infrastructure projects. of Turkey. He also focused his re-election campaign on his promise to rebuild earthquake-stricken areas, including building 319,000 homes for the year. Many see him as a source of stability.
Kilicdaroglu is a soft-spoken former civil servant who has led the secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010. He campaigned on the promise to reverse democratic declines. of Erdogan, revitalizing the economy by returning to more conventional policies and improving relations with the West.
In a frantic attempt to reach out to nationalist voters in the ballot box, Kilicdaroglu vowed to send the refugees back and rule out any peace talks with the militants. Kurd if he is elected.
Many in Turkey consider Syrian refugees temporarily protected by Turkey after fleeing the war in neighboring Syria as a burden on the country, and their repatriation has become a problem. important issue in the election.
Earlier in the week, Erdogan received the endorsement of his third-place candidate, nationalist politician Sinan Ogan, who won 5.2 percent of the vote and is no longer in the race. Meanwhile, a staunchly anti-migrant party has backed Ogan’s candidacy, vowing to support Kilicdaroglu.
A defeat for Kilicdaroglu would add to a long list of electoral defeats for Erdogan and pressure him to step down as party chairman.
Erdogan’s AKP party and its allies won a majority of seats in parliament after legislative elections were also held on May 14. Parliamentary elections will not be repeated on Sunday.
Erdogan’s party is also dominant in the quake-hit region, winning 10 of the 11 provinces in the region that have traditionally supported the president. Erdogan has taken the lead in the presidential race in eight of them.
As in previous elections, Erdogan has used state resources and his control over the media to reach voters.
Following the May 14 vote, international observers also pointed to the criminalization of disinformation dissemination and online censorship as evidence that Erdogan has an “unreasonable advantage”. Observers also say the election shows the resilience of Turkish democracy.
Erdogan and the pro-government media portray Kilicdaroglu, who has earned the support of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with “terrorists” and supporting what they describe is a “deviant” LGBTQ right.
Kilicdaroglu “takes his orders from Qandil,” Erdogan has said several times at recent campaign rallies, referring to the mountains of Iraq where the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party is located, or PKK, outlawed.
“We take orders from God and the people,” he said.
The elections were held as the country marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of the republic, following the fall of the Ottoman Empire.