In a momentous event for the Turkish nation, voting for the highly contested presidential election began on Sunday morning. Surveys indicate that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is trailing behind his opposition counterpart, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Should these polls prove accurate, Turkey may witness a transfer of power after over two decades of Erdogan’s rule.
At 8 am local time, polling stations opened their doors to voters and will remain accessible until 5 pm. Following the closure of voting, results are expected to pour in from across the country, with the first updates anticipated after 9 pm.
To secure victory in the first round, a presidential candidate must attain more than 50 percent of the votes, thereby avoiding a run-off election scheduled for May 28. Several restrictions have been implemented, including a prohibition on the sale of alcohol until midnight.
Media outlets are subjected to a ban on reporting any news, commentary, or predictions concerning the election until 6 pm.
State media has reported the distribution of over 191,000 ballot boxes across Turkey, catering to approximately 61 million eligible voters. Moreover, additional polling stations have been set up to accommodate tens of thousands of individuals displaced by the earthquake in February, allowing them to exercise their voting rights.
In addition to the presidential race, voters will also be electing deputies for Turkey’s 600-seat parliament.
The two presidential candidates made their final pleas for votes on Saturday, addressing supporters in Istanbul and Ankara. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the People’s Republican Party (CHP), delivered a speech in Ankara and visited the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the party’s founder and the architect of modern Turkey. Speaking fervently amidst the rain, Kilicdaroglu emphasized Ataturk’s openness to innovation and urged supporters to focus on building the new rather than combating the old.
Meanwhile, President Erdogan, the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), embarked on a tour of three Istanbul districts on the eve of the election. His visit to Kasimpasa, his hometown, showcased the steadfast support he enjoys from residents despite the challenging economic circumstances gripping the nation. Speaking at the Hagia Sophia mosque, Erdogan expressed confidence in emerging stronger from the ballot box.
Refuting accusations of refusing to step down in the event of defeat, Erdogan stated in an interview aired by numerous Turkish broadcasters on Friday, “If our nation decides to make such a different decision, we will do exactly what’s required by democracy.”
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which garners approximately 10 percent of votes and has endorsed Kilicdaroglu, held its final rally in the Istanbul district of Yenekepi. As Kurdish rap reverberated through the loudspeakers, officials took to the stage, proclaiming the famous Kurdish slogan, “Jin, Jiyan, Azadi” or “Woman, Life, Freedom.” This slogan has recently gained prominence during Iran’s anti-government protests. The withdrawal of presidential candidate Muharrem Ince on Thursday is expected to bolster Kilicdaroglu’s chances.
Historically, voter turnout in Turkey has been robust, with more than 81 percent of eligible voters participating in the 2018 election. Additionally, millions of first-time voters are poised to exercise their democratic rights.
The Turkish diaspora has already set records for participation, with over three million votes cast. Notably, Turks will be electing both a president and a parliament for a five-year term. In the presidential race, a candidate must secure more than 50 percent of the cast ballots to claim victory in the first round.