- Years of economic crisis have eroded Erdogan’s support
- Opinion polls give opposition leader Kilicdaroglu a slight lead
- Erdogan is an accomplished campaigner with a loyal following
ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turks voted on Sunday in one of the most important elections in Turkey’s 100-year modern history, which could either 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 heading amid a deep cost of living crisis, and the shape of its foreign policy that has taken unexpected turns.
Opinion polls give Erdogan’s main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads a coalition of six opposition parties, a slight lead, but if either fails to get more than 50% of the vote, a run-off election will take place on May 28.
Voters will also elect a new parliament, potentially a close race between the People’s Alliance made up of Erdogan’s conservative Islamist Justice and Development Party, the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance of six opposition parties, including the secular CHP . (Republican People’s Party), founded by Türkiye’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Polls opened at 8 am (0500 GMT) and closed at 5 pm (1400 GMT). Under Turkish law, no results are reported until 9 p.m. By late Sunday there might be a good indication of whether there will be a presidential run-off vote.
And in Diyarbakir, a city in the mainly Kurdish southeast that was hit by a devastating earthquake in February, some said they voted for the opposition, others for Erdogan.
“Change is needed for the country,” said Nuri Can, 26, who cited Turkey’s economic crisis as a reason for voting for Kilicdaroglu. “After the elections, there will be an economic crisis at the door again, so I wanted a change.”
But Hayati Arslan, 51, said he voted for Erdogan and his AKP.
“The country’s economic situation is not good, but I still think Erdogan will fix this situation. Turkey’s prestige abroad has reached a very good point with Erdogan and I want this to continue,” he said.
Queues formed at polling stations in the city, with about 9,000 police on duty across the county.
Many in provinces affected by the earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people, expressed anger at the government’s slow initial response, but there is little evidence that the issue has changed how people vote.
Kurdish voters, who account for 15-20% of the electorate, will play a pivotal 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 in the presidential race. 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.
the end of the era?
Erdogan, 69, is a powerful orator and leading campaigner who gave his all during the campaign as he struggles to survive his toughest political test. 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, equality and ability to meet basic needs, with inflation exceeding 85% in October 2022 and the collapse of the lira currency.
Kilicdaroglu, a 74-year-old former civil servant, promises that if he wins he will return to the traditional economic policies of Erdogan’s heavy-handed administration.
Kilicdaroglu also says he will seek to return the country to a parliamentary system of government, from Erdogan’s executive presidential system passed in a 2017 referendum. He has also promised to restore the independence of the judiciary that critics say Erdogan used to suppress them. opposition.
In his time in power, Erdogan has tightly controlled most of Turkey’s institutions, marginalizing 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.
If Kilicdaroglu wins, he will face challenges in maintaining a unified opposition coalition of nationalists, Islamists, secularists and liberals.
The final days of the campaign were marked by accusations of foreign interference.
Kilicdaroglu said his party had concrete evidence of Russia’s responsibility for publishing “extremely fake” content on the Internet, which Moscow denied. Erdogan accused the opposition of working with US President Joe Biden to overthrow him. A US State Department spokesperson said Washington was not taking sides in the election.
Written by Alexandra Hudson Editing by Frances Kerry
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