Turkish voters to choose between Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu for president

A man sells Turkish flags before Turkey's May 28 presidential run-off vote, in Ankara, Turkey, May 27, 2023. (Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters)

After months of campaigning by two-dozen political parties, four presidential candidates, and a confounding array of electoral alliances, Turkish voters will again go to the polls on Sunday to choose between two men.

The presidential runoff between incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu is the culmination of what is widely regarded as Turkey's most important election in recent memory.

The election period, which officially began on March 18, has been marked by numerous twists and turns, the most dramatic being Erdogan defying the predictions of opinion polls to finish ahead of Kilicdaroglu but narrowly failing to win a third term as president in the first round.

Since the initial vote on May 14 – conducted alongside parliamentary elections in which Erdogan's party and its allies won 323 of 600 seats – the level of electioneering has been scaled back, with both candidates eschewing the massive rallies previously held.

Erdogan is encouraged by his performance in the first round, receiving 49.52 percent of the vote compared to Kilicdaroglu's 44.88 percent.

"Tomorrow, let's all go to the polls together for a Great Turkey Victory," he tweeted on Saturday. "This time, let's reiterate to the presidency the will expressed by the parliament on May 14 in a much stronger manner. With our ballots, let's launch the Century of Turkey."

In addition to extending his 20-year rule by another five years, a victory for Erdogan would see him lead the nation past its 100th birthday in October.

Later, the president attended a ceremony in Istanbul commemorating the anniversary of the 1960 rebellion that resulted in the assassination of Prime Minister Adnan Menderes, with whom Erdogan has frequently identified.

Kilicdaroglu, on the other hand, has adopted a more nationalist stance since the first round, following a strong showing by right-wing voters who awarded Sinan Ogan, the third-placed nationalist presidential candidate, more than 5 percent of the vote.

"Whatever your perspective or way of life, I appeal to all of our people. This is the terminal entryway. Let those who love their country go to the polls!" Kilicdaroglu said in a message sent Saturday.

In his final public appearance, the opposition leader informed a family support meeting in Ankara that he would increase social security payments. "I will live like you, not in palaces," he vowed. "I will live like you and resolve your problems."

As in the previous election, all Turkish citizens residing abroad cast their ballots before election day. Approximately 1,9 million people voted in 73 countries and at border crossings, where ballot receptacles will remain open until the polls close in Turkey.

More than 47,500 voters have turned 18 in the past two weeks, bringing the total number of eligible voters in Turkey to nearly 60,8 million.

Approximately 192,000 ballot receptacles in 87 electoral districts are accessible between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

The election has been reduced to a choice between two candidates, and both have garnered support from candidates who ran in the first round.

Third-placed This week, Ogan endorsed Erdogan's candidacy, while party leaders from the electoral alliance that had previously backed Ogan shifted their support to Kilicdaroglu.

The latter group's leader was Umit Ozdag, who, like Ogan, is a far-right nationalist whose Victory Party has taken an anti-immigrant stance and demanded the expulsion of refugees.

According to Berk Esen, a political scientist at Sabanci University in Istanbul, Kilicdaroglu risks alienating Kurdish electors who supported him in the first round by accepting Ozdag's endorsement and turning to nationalist rhetoric.

"After Umit Ozdag's support, I'm not sure Kilicdaroglu can maintain such high levels of support in the majority-Kurdish southeast provinces," he said. "I believe that will provoke some sort of reaction in that region... The endorsement of Ozdag comes with a hefty price tag."

According to Emre Peker, Europe director of the Eurasia Group, the first round demonstrated that the economic crisis and rampant inflation did not unduly influence voters' decisions.

In its place, Erdogan shifted the discussion to family values and security, stigmatizing the opposition as terrorist sympathizers and advocates for LGBTQ rights.

"One thing we can say with absolute certainty is that identity politics dominated the campaign despite Turkey's most severe economic problems since the financial crisis in 2001," he said.

This is so important that it cannot be emphasized enough.

Turkey's quakes in February, which killed more than 50,000 people, were also anticipated to significantly impact Erdogan's popularity, with critics focusing on what the president himself acknowledged were errors in the government's response to the disaster.

In contrast, in eight earthquake-affected southern provinces, Erdogan defeated Kilicdaroglu in the first round, performing best in Kahramanmaras, where he received 71.9% of the vote.

Analysts acknowledged Kilicdaroglu's success in consolidating and expanding his support base but failed to make inroads into Erdogan's support.

"The difficulty lies in gaining a larger share of Turkey's conservative and right-of-center voters, who make up 60 to 65 percent of the electorate," Peker said.

Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute, added that Kilicdaroglu's speech was "uninspiring" to electors.

"He was unable to convince the electorate, 'I can imagine a country better run by Kilicdaroglu, I'll vote for him.'"

Publish : 2023-05-28 10:59:00

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