Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday.
The elections take place as the Turkish Republic marks its 100th anniversary. Observers are watching election developments closely. A united opposition in the country is aiming to end the long rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Erdogan became president in 2014 after establishing the office during his 14 years as the country’s prime minister. Now he is seeking a third presidential term.
Erdogan’s strongest competitor is Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP. He represents a six-party alliance that seeks to end the presidential system Erdogan created. The alliance wants to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy that includes checks and balances on power.
The 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu has also won the support of the country’s pro-Kurdish party. It brings about 10 percent of the votes.
Early voter opinion studies show the opposition candidate with a small lead over the president. But, the race is very close. Experts consider it unlikely that Sunday’s vote will be definitive. Many expect the process will require a second vote on May 28 between the two candidates who win the most ballots in the first.
Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the German Marshall Fund’s Ankara office, said the race was about two competing visions. “For the first time in the 20 years since Erdogan came to power, he’s facing a real electoral challenge which he may actually lose,” the expert said.
The 69-year-old Erdogan leads the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
He is campaigning on the strength of his rule. He speaks of his leadership guiding the country through the disaster from a powerful earthquake this year. The February 6 event leveled whole cities and killed over 50,000 people in southern Turkey.
Erdogan has recently enacted some financial policies aimed to please the public. They include increasing the minimum wage and pensions to offset the effects of inflation.
However, Erdogan has lost some support as a result of Turkey’s weak economy and high cost of living. And, there is criticism of his government’s response to the February earthquake.
During his campaign stops, Erdogan has tried to describe the opposition as working with “terrorists” and anti-Turkey foreign powers.
Two other candidates are also in the race for president.
They are Muharrem Ince, a former CHP leader who lost the last presidential election to Erdogan in 2018, and Sinan Ogan who has the backing of an anti-immigrant nationalist party.
Ince, who heads the Homeland Party, has come under criticism from Kilicdaroglu supporters. They accuse Ince of splitting the votes and forcing the elections into a runoff.
Issue for the elections
The main issues of the elections are the economy and high inflation.
In Istanbul, tea-shop owner Cengiz Yel said he would vote “for change” because of the government’s failure to fix the economy.
“We worry about the rent, the electricity, and other bills,” Yel said. “For the past year, I have been starting each new month with more debt.”
Others support Erdogan who improved roads and bridges in the country and lifted many people out of poverty in the early years of his rule.
“I love my nation. I want to be with a leader who serves his nation,” said Arif Portakal, a 65-year-old Erdogan supporter in Istanbul.
The campaign has been marked with some violence. On Sunday, protesters in the eastern city of Erzurum threw rocks at a campaign event for Kilicdaroglu. At least seven people were injured. The mayor of Istanbul was speaking at the event.
Turkish voters will also enter votes to fill seats in the 600-member parliament. The opposition would need at least a majority to be able to enact some of the democratic reforms it has promised.
More than 64 million people, including 3.2 million Turkish citizens outside the country, can vote in the elections. And voter turnout in Turkey is traditionally high.
There are concerns over how voters among the 3 million people who have been displaced following the earthquake will be able to vote.
Some have also questioned whether Erdogan would accept an electoral defeat.
In 2015, Erdogan is believed to have worked to block coalition talks after his ruling party lost its parliamentary majority in elections. The party regained a majority in repeat elections a few months later.
I'm Caty Weaver.