Turkish voters weigh final decision on next president and visions for future
ANKARA, Türkiye — Two opposing visions of Turkey’s future are on the ballot when voters return to the polls on Sunday for a runoff in the presidential election that will decide between an increasingly authoritarian incumbent and a committed challenger to restore democracy.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a populist and polarizing leader who ruled Turkey for 20 years, is poised to win after falling just short of victory in the first round of voting on May 14. spiraling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake in February.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey’s main pro-secular opposition party and a six-party alliance, campaigned on a promise to reverse Erdogan’s authoritarian tilt. The 74-year-old former bureaucrat described the run-off as a referendum on the leadership of the strategically located NATO country, which sits at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and has a key word on expansion of the covenant.
“This is an existential fight. Turkey will either be dragged into darkness or into light,” Kilicdaroglu said. “This is more than an election. It became a referendum.
In a bid to sway Nationalist voters ahead of Sunday’s runoff, the normally mild-mannered Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo) shifted gears and hardened his stance, promising to return millions of refugees if elected and rejecting any possibility of peace negotiations with Kurdish militants.
The Social Democrat had previously said he planned to repatriate Syrians within two years, after establishing favorable economic and security conditions for their return.
He also repeatedly called on the 8 million people who stayed away from the polls in the first round to vote in the deciding second round.
Erdogan got 49.5% of the votes in the first round. Kilicdaroglu got 44.9%.
At 69, Erdogan is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader, having led the country as prime minister since 2003 and as president since 2014. He could stay in power until 2028 if re-elected.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has proven to be an indispensable and sometimes troublesome NATO ally.
He vetoed Sweden’s attempt to join the alliance and bought Russian missile defense systems, prompting the United States to oust Turkey from a US-led fighter jet project. UNITED STATES. Yet with the UN, Turkey also brokered a vital deal that allowed Ukraine to ship grain across the Black Sea to starving parts of the world.
This week, Erdogan received the endorsement of third-place nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan, who garnered 5.2% of the vote. The move was seen as a boost for Erdogan, even though Ogan’s supporters are not a monolithic bloc and not all of his votes are expected to go to Erdogan.
Erdogan’s nationalist-Islamist alliance also retained its grip on parliament in parliamentary elections two weeks ago, further boosting his chances of re-election as many voters are likely to want to avoid a divided government.
On Wednesday, the leader of a radical anti-migrant party who had backed Ogan backed Kilicdaroglu after the pair signed a memorandum pledging to return millions of migrants and refugees within a year.
Kilicdaroglu’s chances of overturning the vote in his favor appear slim but could hinge on the opposition’s ability to mobilize voters who did not vote in the first round.
“It is not possible to say that the odds favor him, but nevertheless, technically he has a chance,” said Professor Serhat Guvenc of Kadir Has University in Istanbul.
If the opposition manages to reach voters who had previously stayed at home, “that may be another story”.
In Istanbul, Serra Ural, 45, accused Erdogan of mismanagement of the economy and said she would vote for Kilicdaroglu.
She also voiced concerns about women’s rights after Erdogan expanded his alliance to include Huda-Par, a hardline Kurdish Islamist political party with alleged links to a group responsible for a series of horrific killings in the 1990s. The party wants to abolish coeducation, advocates the criminalization of adultery and asserts that women should prioritize their homes over their work.
“We don’t know what will happen to the women tomorrow or the day after, what condition they will be in,” she said. “To be honest, Huda-Par scares us, especially women.”
Mehmet Nergis, 29, said he would vote for Erdogan for stability.
Erdogan “is the guarantee of a more stable future”, Nergis said. “Everyone in the world has already seen how far he has taken Turkey.”
He dismissed the country’s economic difficulties and said he believed Erdogan would make improvements.
Erdogan’s campaign has focused on rebuilding areas devastated by the earthquake, which leveled cities and killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey. He promised to build 319,000 houses in the year.
In parliamentary elections, Erdogan’s alliance won 10 of 11 provinces in the quake-hit region despite criticism that his government’s initial response to the disaster was slow.
“Yes, there was a delay, but the roads were blocked,” said Yasar Sunulu, an Erdogan supporter in Kahramanmaras, the epicenter of the quake. “We can’t complain about the state… It gave us food, bread and everything we needed.”
He and his family members are living in a tent after their home was destroyed.
Nursel Karci, a mother of four living in the same camp, said she would also vote for Erdogan.
Erdogan “did everything I couldn’t”, she said. “He dressed my children where I couldn’t. He fed them where I couldn’t…Not a penny came out of my pocket.”
Erdogan has repeatedly described Kilicdaroglu as colluding with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, after the opposition party leader received support from the country’s pro-Kurdish party.
At a rally in Istanbul, Erdogan released a fake video claiming to show a PKK commander singing the opposition campaign song to hundreds of thousands of his supporters. On Monday, Erdogan doubled down on the account, insisting that the PKK gave its support to Kilicdaroglu whether the video was “rigged or not”.
“Most analysts failed to assess the impact of Erdogan’s campaign against Kilicdaroglu,” Guvenc said. “It obviously struck a chord with the average nationalist-religious electorate in Turkey.”
“Politics today is about building and maintaining a narrative that obscures reality,” he added. “Erdogan and his people are very successful in constructing narratives that overshadow realities.”