Landmark election: Türkiye votes on president and parliament

Pioneering choice
Türkiye votes on President and Parliament

Supporters of Turkish President Erdogan shout slogans at an election campaign rally.  Photo: Emrah Gurel/AP/dpa

Supporters of Turkish President Erdogan shout slogans at an election campaign rally. photo

© Emrah Gurel/AP/dpa

Insults and attacks with stones – the atmosphere before the elections in Turkey has recently become more and more tense. For the first time in 20 years, Erdogan is not going into the race as a favourite.

A landmark election has begun in Turkey. Around 61 million people are called on Sunday to vote on a new parliament and president. Incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan has to worry about his re-election after 20 years in power.

Polls point to a neck-and-neck race between Erdogan and his challenger, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The polling stations close at 5:00 p.m. (local time/4:00 p.m. CEST). Reliable results are expected late on Sunday evening German time.

The election takes place in a tense atmosphere. There are fears that Erdogan might not accept defeat. On Friday, however, the President declared that he wanted to recognize the result in any case.

Interest in the election was already great in the morning. Long queues formed in the conservative Üsküdar district of Istanbul, as a dpa reporter reported. A middle-aged woman, who introduced herself as Sevinc, said the election was “unfortunately the only field in which the people can exercise their freedom”. She hopes for a large turnout. Fikret Koc, 57, said he supports the “leader” Erdogan. He made Turkey strong and brought it forward.

Voting in the earthquake region

People also went to the polls in the earthquake region of Adiyaman. According to a local dpa employee, the rush in the morning was more restrained than in previous years. Some had come to their former place of residence especially to choose from emergency shelters. In the provinces affected by the earthquake, votes are taken in containers or schools that are still intact. After the tremors in south-east Turkey on February 6, which killed tens of thousands, criticism of the government’s crisis management was raised.

Since the introduction of a presidential system five years ago, the 69-year-old Erdogan has had more power than ever before and can largely rule without parliament. Critics fear that the country, with a population of around 85 million, could slide completely into autocracy if he wins again. The vote in the NATO country is also being closely observed internationally.

The third candidate has no chance of winning

Kilicdaroglu (74) is head of the social-democratic CHP and is a candidate for an alliance of six parties. He promises a return to the parliamentary system. The third candidate, Sinan Ogan, has no chance of winning. If none of the candidates wins an absolute majority in the first round, there will be a runoff in two weeks – on May 28th.

Erdogan’s Islamic conservative AKP currently holds a majority in parliament in alliance with the ultra-nationalist MHP. Whether Erdogan can keep this is open. The pro-Kurdish HDP is seen as tipping the scales. She is not part of Kilicdaroglu’s six-party alliance, but supports him in the presidential election.

The election campaign was considered unfair, mainly because of the government’s superior media power. The determining topic was above all the poor economic situation with massive inflation. Erdogan promised, among other things, an increase in civil servants’ salaries and further investments in the defense industry. He ran an aggressive campaign, calling the opposition “terrorists” and hostile to lesbian, gay and queer people.

Appearance with bulletproof vest

A popular opposition politician had been stoned just a week before the election. Kilicdaroglu wore a bulletproof vest during a performance in the Erdogan stronghold of Samsun on Friday.

Kilicdaroglu is considered a level-headed politician. He comes from the eastern Turkish province of Tunceli and belongs to the Alevi religious minority. The opposition leader wants to restore the independence of institutions like the central bank and get high inflation under control. He stands for a rapprochement with Germany and the EU, but also for a stricter migration policy.

There is hardly a top politician in the EU and NATO who would regret a change of power in Ankara. Relations have been icy ever since Erdogan used the attempted coup in 2016 as an excuse to restrict fundamental rights and had opposition figures and journalists imprisoned. The EU put accession negotiations and talks about expanding the existing customs union on hold. Everything can only get better with Kilicdaroglu, is the prevailing opinion in Brussels.

Initially, Erdogan was still considered a reformer

In the traffic light coalition, one is also cautious behind closed doors. Even if the Kilicdaroglu alliance wins, it remains to be seen how the different partners will come together in terms of content. This also applies to the big issues such as Turkey’s attitude towards Russia, the enforcement of sanctions or how to deal with the refugees.

Erdogan’s Islamic conservative AKP came to power in 2002. A year later, Erdogan became prime minister and has been president since 2014. In the first years of his reign he was considered a reformer and ensured an economic upswing. Erdogan has now rolled back many of his own reforms. Erdogan had the government-critical Gezi protests, which will be celebrated for the tenth time in two weeks, put down.

The parliamentary and presidential elections would normally have taken place in June. However, Erdogan had brought it forward to May 14 by presidential decree. Election observers from the OSCE and the Council of Europe follow the voting.


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