Turks head to the polls in momentous presidential run-off

Turkish citizens are participating in a pivotal presidential run-off today to determine the fate of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s prolonged 20-year rule. The outcome of this election will determine whether Erdogan remains in power or steps down.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan’s challenger and the candidate backed by a broad opposition alliance, has positioned this vote as a decisive referendum on the future trajectory of Turkey. As the favourite to win, President Erdogan has pledged to usher in a new era of unity, aiming to rally the country around a vision of a “Turkish century.”

However, a more pressing concern that resonates with the populace is the prevailing issue of skyrocketing inflation and the resulting cost-of-living crisis. The citizens’ struggles with the economy have taken precedence in the run-up to the election.

Polling stations across the country will close at 17:00 local time (14:00 GMT). Turkish expatriates in Europe and the United States have already cast their votes, contributing to the overall electoral process.

The first round of voting witnessed an impressive turnout of 88.8%, with Erdogan enjoying a lead of 2.5 million votes. Consequently, both candidates are now focusing their attention on the eight million eligible voters who did not participate in the initial round, hoping to secure their support this time.

In the run-up to the run-off election, Kilicdaroglu accused his rival of engaging in unfair practices by blocking his text messages to voters, while allowing Erdogan’s messages to be delivered unhindered. To ensure a fair electoral process, opposition parties have mobilised a legion of volunteers to prevent any potential vote-rigging.

Following the first round, international observers remarked on the uneven playing field, but no suggestions were made that any irregularities in the voting process could have altered the result.

On his final day of campaigning, Kilicdaroglu promised a distinctly different style of presidency, stating, “I have no interest in living in palaces. I will live like you, modestly… and solve your problems.” This comment took aim at Erdogan’s extravagant presidential complex on the outskirts of Ankara, which he moved into when transitioning from the position of prime minister to president in 2014. Since surviving a failed coup in 2016, Erdogan has acquired extensive powers, detained tens of thousands of individuals, and assumed control over the media.

Symbolism was rife when Erdogan made a campaign visit to the mausoleum of a former prime minister executed by the military following a coup in 1960. He proclaimed, “The era of coups and juntas is over,” linking Turkey’s current stability to his own authoritarian rule.

Turkey, however, remains deeply divided, with Erdogan relying on the support of religious conservatives and nationalists, while Kilicdaroglu’s supporters largely consist of secularists, although many of them also identify as nationalists.

For days, both candidates exchanged insults, with Kilicdaroglu accusing the president of cowardice and evading a fair election, while Erdogan labelled his opponent as being aligned with “terrorists,” referencing Kurdish militants.

However, after a period of inflammatory rhetoric regarding the repatriation of millions of Syrian refugees, the opposition candidate redirected the narrative back to Turkey’s most pressing issue: the economic crisis, particularly its impact on low-income households.

During a campaign event, a 59-year-old woman and her grandson joined Kilicdaroglu on stage, highlighting how her monthly salary of 5,000 lira (£200; $250) had become untenable due to a sharp increase in rent, amounting to 4,000 lira (£160; $200).

While this instance may have been staged, it reflects the reality faced by many across Turkey, as inflation has surged to nearly 44%, with wages and state assistance failing to keep pace.

Economists argue that Erdogan’s policy of reducing interest rates instead of raising them has exacerbated the situation. The Turkish lira has plummeted to record lows, demand for foreign currency has surged, and the central bank’s net foreign currency reserves have entered negative territory for the first time since 2002.

In Kirikkale, located east of Ankara, gleaming high-rise buildings have emerged, creating an illusion of prosperity in a city governed by Erdogan’s party. However, a significant portion of the population is grappling with financial difficulties.

Irrespective of the victor on Sunday, Turkey’s parliament is already firmly under the control of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party and its far-right nationalist ally, the MHP. Additionally, the AKP boasts the youngest member of parliament, who assumed office on the eve of the presidential vote.

This grandiose Erdogan endeavor focuses on Turkey’s economy, which is likely to pose a more immediate challenge for whichever candidate emerges victorious in the run-off.

Image Credit: AP News

Tags : Turkey