Turkey braces for another go at the polls | WORLD
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Turkey braces for another go at the polls

Voters decide Turkey’s future in local and global issues

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine at the party headquarters in Ankara, Turkey on May 15 Associated Press/Photo by Ali Unal

Turkey braces for another go at the polls

Hours after voters queued at polls across Turkey on Sunday, incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke to supporters from the balcony of his ruling Justice and Development Party headquarters in Ankara.

He assured them of an even better victory as the election returns indicated a runoff election would be necessary. “If our nation has made its choice in favor of the second round of the election then that is also welcome,” he said.

Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey for two decades, emerged with 49.5 percent of the votes, falling just short of the 50 percent required for an outright victory. His primary contender, Kemal Kilicdaroğlu, received 45 percent. Voters will return to the polls later this month to choose between the two in an election many view as Erdoğan’s most formidable challenge yet. Analysts say the outcome will determine whether Turkey will continue down an Islamic nationalist path with powers consolidated around Erdoğan and frayed relations with the West or choose more secular leadership.

Nearly 90 percent of voters turned out for the election that also saw Erdoğan’s People’s Alliance retain its parliamentary majority. Kilicdaroğlu, representing a six-party Nation Alliance, also tried to reassure his supporters. In a defiant video, he told supporters he would “fight until the very end.”

Turkey is in the throes of an economic crisis, with the inflation rate at 44 percent, down from the previous month. Turkish residents this year have borne price hikes from electricity to taxi and toll charges. The opposition has blamed Erdoğan’s unorthodox economic policies for inflation and devalued currency. Five days before the vote, Erdoğan’s government increased public workers’ salaries by 45 percent and reiterated his promise to foster economic growth.

Kilicdaroğlu amassed support as he challenged Erdoğan’s growing powers and economic policies. “We want to become a part of the civilized world,” he told the BBC. “We want free media and complete judicial independence.”

Kilicdaroğlu vowed to restore democracy and return Turkey to a parliamentary system. Erdoğan transitioned the country to a presidential system after a 2017 referendum, effectively abolishing the prime minister’s office and centering the roles of head of state and government in the presidency. The move followed a failed 2016 coup that saw Erdoğan impose a state of emergency and arrest more than 77,000 people. Erdoğan’s government also faced criticism over its handling of the February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people and left 1.5 million homeless.

Defne Arslan, senior director of the Atlantic Council in Turkey, said the election result revealed Turkish voters prefer stability over change. “Despite the general expectations, it was surprising to see that the recent economic policies of the government—which led to high inflation, low reserves, and a foreign exchange crunch—were not determinant for those who voted for the [ruling party,]” she said. “This suggests that the recent economic incentives Erdoğan announced, and nationalist motives combined with Erdoğan’s leadership style, played a bigger role in their votes.”

Joseph Daniel, the Middle East and North Africa regional manager at International Christian Concern said Turkey’s growing nationalism sees Turkish identity as synonymous with Islam. He said Turkish Christians, who make up less than 1 percent of the population, have faced deportation of foreign Christians and lack of approval for Christian education of church leaders, among other restrictions. “That’s very much part of Erdoğan’s Turkish nationalist rhetoric that he has in his party throughout the country,” Daniel explained.

Turkey’s economic hardship has highlighted the fate of about 3.6 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. Kilicdaroğlu pledged to deport the refugees within two years. He also fielded accusations of welcoming ties with outlawed Kurdish militants after receiving support from the Peoples’ Democratic Party, a pro-Kurdish party accused of connections to Kurdish terror groups.

If Kilicdaroğlu is elected, his coalition Nation Alliance also promised to restore relations with the United States and Europe. Turkey sits at a crossroads between Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. It also has the second-largest military in NATO. In March, Erdoğan maintained relations with Russia but approved Finland’s accession into NATO. Turkey refused to approve Sweden’s membership over its support for Kurdish groups that Turkey considers terrorists.

“I think we’ll also see [in the event of Erdoğan being re-elected], Turkish foreign policy continue to emphasize the importance of the Organization of Turkic States,” including countries like Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan, Matthew Bryza, the former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia, told The New Arab.

Turkey’s runoff vote is scheduled for May 28. Right-wing candidate Sinan Ogan, who came in third with about 5 percent of the votes, said he would not endorse any candidate “who doesn’t keep a distance from the terror organization,” signaling likely support for Erdoğan.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter and deputy global desk chief. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.


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