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Business News/ News / World/  Turkey election: Erdogan seeks to extend two decades of rule

Turks voted again on Sunday to decide whether the country’s longtime leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan extends his authoritarian rule into a third decade or is replaced by a challenger who has promised the citizens of the country to restore a more democratic society.

President Erdogan, 69, has been ruling Turkey for 20 years. He is favored to win a new five-year term in the second-round runoff after coming just short of outright victory in the first round on May 14.

Erdogan finished four percentage points ahead of Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the first round of elections despite crippling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake three months ago. 

Kilicdaroglu is the leader of Turkey’s center-left main opposition party and the candidate of a six-party alliance.

The election results could have implications far beyond Turkey as the nation having a population of 85 million not only stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia but also play an important role in NATO.

The Erdogan's government in Turkey not only vetoed Sweden’s bid to join NATO but also purchased Russian missile-defense systems despite protests from other Nato members. The Turkey was even ousted from a fighter-jet project lead by the US due to purchase of the Russian missile-defense systems.

The two candidates, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu, offered sharply different visions of the country's future, and its recent past.

Kilicdaroglu, 74, said after casting his ballot,  “This election took place under very difficult circumstances, there was all sorts of slander and defamation." 

“But I trust in the common sense of the people. Democracy will come, freedom will come, people will be able to wander the streets and freely criticize politicians, " Kilicdaroglu added.

Erdogan after casting his vote in Istanbul praised high voter turnout in the first round. The  Erdogan  said he expected participation to be high again during today’s  polls.

More than 64 million people are eligible to cast ballots. The polls opened at 8 am.

Turkey does not have exit polls, but preliminary results are expected to come within hours of the polls closing at 5 pm.

Erdogan is being blamed for his unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis. His government has been also criticised for a slow response to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey.

In the mainly Kurdish-populated province of Diyarbakir — one of 11 regions that was hit by the Feb. 6 earthquake — 60-year-old retiree Mustafa Yesil said he voted for “change."

“I'm not happy at all with the way this country is going. Let me be clear, if this current administration continues, I don’t see good things for the future," he said. “I see that it will end badly — this administration has to change."

Mehmet Yurttas, an Erdogan supporter, disagreed.

“I believe that our homeland is at the peak, in a very good condition," the 57-year-old shop owner said. “Our country’s trajectory is very good and it will continue being good."

Erdogan has retained the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for lifting Islam’s profile in the Turkey, which was founded on secular principles, and for raising the country’s influence in world politics.

If Erdogan wins, he could remain in power until 2028. He is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader. A devout Muslim, he heads the conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP. 

Erdogan transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office through a narrowly won 2017 referendum that scrapped Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014, and won the 2018 election that ushered in the executive presidency.

The first half of Erdogan’s tenure included reforms that allowed the country to begin talks to join the European Union, and economic growth that lifted many out of poverty. 

Erdogan later moved to suppress freedoms. He concentrated more power in his own hands, following a failed coup attempt that Turkey says was orchestrated by the US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. 

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan's rival, is a soft-mannered former civil servant who has led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party since 2010. He campaigned on promises to reverse Erdogan’s democratic backsliding, to restore the economy by reverting to more conventional policies, and to improve ties with the West.

In a frantic effort to reach out to nationalist voters in the runoff, Kilicdaroglu vowed to send back refugees and ruled out peace negotiations with Kurdish militants if he is elected.

A defeat for Kilicdaroglu would add to a long list of electoral losses to Erdogan, and put pressure on him to step down as party chairman.

Erdogan’s AKP party and its allies retained a majority of seats in parliament following a legislative election that was also held on May 14. Parliamentary elections will not be repeated Sunday.

Erdogan’s party also dominated in the earthquake-hit region, winning 10 out of 11 provinces in an area that has traditionally supported the president. Erdogan came in ahead in the presidential race in eight of those provinces.

Following the May 14 vote, international observers pointed to the criminalization of dissemination of false information and online censorship as evidence that Erdogan had an “unjustified advantage." The international observers also said that strong turnout showed the resilience of Turkish democracy.

Erdogan and pro-government media portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with “terrorists" and of supporting what they described as “deviant" LGBTQ rights.

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Updated: 28 May 2023, 08:29 PM IST
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