Türkiye votes in crucial elections, with Erdogan’s rule balanced

  • Opinion polls show that the opposition has an edge
  • Result indicators may appear on Sunday evening
  • A run-off will take place on May 28 if neither of them gets more than 50%.
  • Erdogan is elected in Istanbul, his rival, Kilicdaroglu, in Ankara

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turks cast their ballots in a pivotal election on Sunday, either to unseat President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and halt his government’s increasingly authoritarian course or usher in a third decade of his rule.

The vote will decide not only who leads Turkey, a NATO member of 85 million people, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amid a deepening cost of living crisis, and the shape of its foreign policy.

Opinion polls have given Erdogan’s main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party alliance, a slight lead, with two polls on Friday showing him above the 50% threshold needed for an outright victory. If neither wins more than 50% of the vote on Sunday, a runoff will take place on May 28.

Polling stations close in the elections for the new parliament at 5 pm (1400 GMT). Turkish law prohibits reporting any results until 9pm. By late Sunday there might be a good indication of whether there will be a run-off.

“I see this election as a choice between democracy and dictatorship,” said Ahmet Kalkan, 64, as he voted in Istanbul for Kilicdaroglu, echoing critics who fear Erdogan could rule more authoritarian than ever if he wins.

“I chose democracy and I hope my country will choose democracy,” said Kalkan, a retired health sector employee.

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Erdogan, 69, a war veteran who won dozens of victories in the elections, says he respects democracy and denies being a dictator.

Mehmet Akif Kahraman, also voting in Istanbul, shows how the president still has support, and said Erdogan still represents the future even after two decades in power.

“God willing, Türkiye will be the leader of the world,” he said.

Voters elsewhere in the country have also expressed their views for and against Erdogan, a polarizing figure who hopes to extend his tenure as the longest-serving ruler since the founding of modern Turkey 100 years ago.

The elections take place three months after the earthquakes in southeastern Turkey, which claimed the lives of more than 50 thousand people. Many in the affected counties have expressed anger at the government’s slow initial response, but there is little evidence that the case has changed the way people vote.

Erdogan, during the voting in Istanbul, shook the hands of election officials and spoke to a TV reporter at the polling station.

“We pray to the Lord for a better future for our country, our nation and Turkish democracy,” he said.

A smiling Kilicdaroglu, 74, voted in Ankara and walked out to the applause of the waiting crowd.

“I offer my sincere love and respect to all the citizens who go to the polls and vote. We all miss democracy so much,” he told the gathered media.

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The parliamentary vote is a tight race between the People’s Alliance made up of Erdoğan’s Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party, the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance of six opposition parties, including the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), set up by the founder of Turkey Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

A mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is monitoring the vote and said it would make a preliminary statement on Monday on its findings.

change or continuity

A powerful orator and prominent activist, Erdogan has held back everything he can during his election campaign. He commands fierce loyalty from Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkey and his political career has survived a coup attempt in 2016 and several corruption scandals.

However, if the Turks overthrow Erdogan, it will be largely because they have seen their prosperity and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation exceeding 85% in October 2022 and the collapse of the lira currency.

Kilicdaroglu promises that if he wins, he will return to the traditional economic policies of the heavy-handed Erdogan administration.

Kilicdaroglu also says he will seek to return Turkey to a system of parliamentary rule, from Erdogan’s executive presidential system passed in a 2017 referendum. He has also promised to restore judicial independence that critics say Erdogan has used to suppress dissent. .

Erdoğan has firmly controlled most of Turkey’s institutions and the fringes of liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch said, in its World Report 2022, that Erdogan’s government has restored Turkey’s human rights record for decades.

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Kurdish voters, who make up 15-20% of the electorate, will play a vital role, and the Nation Alliance is unlikely to gain a parliamentary majority on its own.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party is not part of the main opposition alliance, but it is staunchly opposed to Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years.

The HDP announced its support for Kilicdaroglu for the presidency. It is entering the parliamentary elections under the banner of the Small Green Left Party due to a lawsuit filed by a senior public prosecutor seeking to ban the HDP due to its links to Kurdish fighters, which the party denies.

Written by Alexandra Hudson Editing by Frances Kerry

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