- Opinion polls suggest that there is a tough competition
- Erdogan’s 20-year rule is on the line
ISTANBUL, May 14 (Reuters) – Turkey’s opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said he would challenge President Tayyip Erdogan in Sunday’s presidential election, despite state media favoring Erdogan in early results.
Citing manipulation of early results reporting in previous elections, Istanbul’s opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on TV that no one should pay attention to preliminary results shared by the state-owned Anadolu Agency.
Preliminary results in Anadolu, broadcast by Turkish media, showed President Tayyip Erdogan leading with 41.55% of the vote compared to Kıldırığıoğlu with 52.55%, although the gap was narrowing as the count continued.
“We are leading,” Kilicdaroglu said on Twitter.
“We can comfortably say this: Mr. Kilicdaroglu will be declared the 13th president of our country today,” Imamoglu added at a news conference.
Broadcaster DRT Haber reported results from Anadolu based on a 41.83% ballot box count.
Early results were expected to favor Erdogan, as many first-counts typically come from his conservative, rural heartland.
Sunday’s vote is one of the most consequential in the country’s 100-year history, a contest that could end Erdogan’s 20-year rule and reverberate far beyond Turkey’s borders.
Pre-election polls had given Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party coalition, a slight lead, and two polls on Friday showed him above the 50% threshold needed to win. If neither gets more than 50% of the votes, a second round of voting will be held on May 28.
The presidential vote will determine not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member country of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amid a deep cost-of-living crisis and the shape of its foreign policy.
The polls officially closed at 5pm (1400 GMT) after nine hours of voting.
Elections to parliament are closely watched in Western capitals, the Middle East, NATO and Moscow.
A defeat for Erdogan, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most important allies, would worry the Kremlin but comfort the Biden administration and many European and Middle Eastern leaders who have had troubled relations with Erdogan.
Turkey’s long-serving leader has turned the NATO member and Europe’s second-largest country into a global player, modernizing it with mega projects like new bridges, hospitals and airports and building a military industry sought after by foreign countries.
But his erratic economic policy of low interest rates, a cost-of-living crisis and inflation, made him the target of voter ire. His government’s slow response to a devastating earthquake in southeastern Turkey that killed 50,000 people added to voters’ dismay.
Kilicdaroglu has pledged to set Turkey on a new course by renewing democracy after years of state repression, returning to orthodox economic policies, empowering institutions that have lost autonomy under Erdogan’s tight grip, and rebuilding fragile ties with the West.
Thousands of political prisoners and activists could be freed if the opposition wins, including high-profile names such as Kurdish leader Selahtin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Gavala.
“I see these elections as a choice between democracy and dictatorship,” said 64-year-old Ahmet Kalkan, who voted for Klikdaroglu in Istanbul, echoing critics who fear Erdogan will rule more autocratically if he wins.
“I chose democracy and I hope my country chooses democracy,” said Kalkan, a retired health department employee.
Erdogan, 69, is the oldest of more than a dozen electoral victories and says he values democracy and rejects being a dictator.
Explaining how the president still commands support, Mehmet Akif Kahraman, a voter in Istanbul, said Erdogan represents the future after two decades in power.
“God willing, Turkey will be a world leader,” he said.
The parliamentary vote is a tight contest between Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) and the People’s Alliance, which includes the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilikdaroğlu’s Nation coalition, which includes six opposition parties, including his secular Republican Party (CHP). Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the founder of Turkey.
With 42% of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan’s coalition won 57.95% of the votes in the parliamentary vote, while the opposition coalition won 28.65%.
Change or Continuity
Erdogan, a powerful orator and master campaigner, pulled out all the stops on the campaign trail. He commands fierce loyalty from devout Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkey and his political career has survived an attempted coup in 2016 and several corruption scandals.
However, Turks’ ousting of Erdogan has seen their prosperity and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation rising to 85% in October 2022 and a collapse in the lira currency.
Kilicdaroglu says he is seeking to return Turkey to a parliamentary form of government, away from Erdogan’s executive presidency, which was passed in a 2017 referendum. He has also promised to restore the independence of the judiciary, which critics say Erdogan has used to suppress dissent.
Erdogan has tightly controlled most of Turkey’s institutions, marginalizing liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2022, noted that Erdogan’s government has set back Turkey’s human rights record for decades.
Kurdish voters, who make up 15-20% of the electorate, will play an important role, and the National Coalition is unlikely to achieve a parliamentary majority on its own.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is not part of the main opposition coalition, but remains fiercely opposed to Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years.
Written by Alexandra Hudson Editing by Frances Kerry
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