(Istanbul) Polling stations closed their doors last Sunday afternoon as scores of voters turned out to elect President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been out of office for 20 years, and his social-democratic rival, Kemal Kilicadaroglu. .
Ballot boxes continued to be filled with large mustard green envelopes until the last minute — 5 p.m. (10 a.m. Eastern time) — and voters waited for hours in front of schools that had sometimes been converted into polling stations since 8 a.m.
At stake: the election of the thirteenth president of a Turkish republic celebrating its first century and the future of a head of state hoping to hold on to power against his rival.
The winner would have to get 50% of the vote and a majority under penalty of a second round on May 28, the symbolic anniversary of the massive popular protest movement that toppled power in 2003.
65 million voters had to elect all 600 representatives who would sit in a single chamber parliament in Ankara.
In 2018, during the last presidential election, the head of state won with more than 52.5% of the votes in the first round. A waiver would already be a setback for him.
Mr. Erdogan has vowed to respect the verdict of the ballot box, watched by hundreds of thousands of voters from both sides, and he has always claimed his legitimacy.
The Election Commission (YSK), which has been kept under close watch by police blocking all traffic of cars and pedestrians, has not reported any incident at this stage.
In the afternoon, Mr. Erdogan wished a “prosperous future for the country and Turkish democracy” and outlined the enthusiasm of voters, “particularly in the affected areas. The February 6 earthquake killed at least 50,000 people.”
Tired features appeared, he made little prediction of the evening’s expected results and, like Kemal Klicharoglu, he would be waiting from Ankara.
Not long ago, the latter was the first of the two to vote in Ankara: “We missed democracy,” said the social democrat, and everyone laughed. “You will see, spring will return to this country and, God willing, it will last forever,” he used as one of his campaign slogans.
“Do not divide Turkey”
Voters were polarized between Islamist conservative leader Erdogan, 69, and Kemal Kilidaroglu, 74, head of the CHP, the secular party of modern Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
“It’s not important to divide Turkey,” said Recep Turkden, 67, as he waited outside his office in Uskudar.
A third candidate, Sinan Ogan, has a few points.
“The economy is not the priority, we have to start with the basics: restoring human rights and democracy, restoring our dignity,” said Judge Hande Deke, 55, in the high-ranking district of Sisli in Istanbul.
“To put it simply, we want the French Revolution: ‘Equality, Liberty, Fraternity’, because in the last twenty years, everything has disappeared”, adds Ulvi Aminci, 58, in blue jeans and green sleeves.
“I say ‘continue’ with Erdogan,” pleads Nurgan Sawyer with a scarf on his head, instead, in front of Erdogan’s polling station.
In the wounded city of Antakya, the former Antioch (south) devastated by the earthquake, Mehmet Topaloglu was among the first to say: “We need change, that’s enough”.
Three months after the tragedy, the wounds are sharp: “Before the earthquake, my vote was limited, but with the earthquake it was confirmed”, said the relaxed Aylin Karakas, 23 years old.
Mr Kilicadaroglu leads a united front of six parties ranging from the nationalist right to the liberal centre-left. He also received support from the pro-Kurdish HDP party, the country’s third political force.
Mr. Erdogan appeared this time in front of a country weakened by an economic crisis, with the currency halved in two years and inflation exceeding 85% in the fall.
Facing him, Kemal Klisadaroglu, Mr. He reassured by promising to restore respect for the rule of law and institutions that have suffered over the past decade from Erdogan’s authoritarian slide.
“Erdoğan’s defeat shows that we can get out of a well-established autocracy through the ballot box,” says Ahmed Insel, a political scientist in exile in Paris. »
A form of “Turkish Spring” will be closely scrutinized abroad. Because Turkey, a member of NATO, enjoys a unique position between Europe and the Middle East and is a key diplomatic player.