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Turkey heads to the polls on Sunday in one of the most significant elections in the world this year, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan well placed to extend his power.
He faces Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the leader of an opposition coalition, who underperformed poll projections in the first round on May 14.
Erdoğan, who has held first the office of prime minister and then that of head of state since 2003, clearly has the upper hand in what has been a highly polarizing contest, which takes place against the backdrop of the devastation caused by the great earthquake that Turkey has suffered in February.
« Erdoğan’s advantages in office have gotten him ahead in the first round and those same advantages will help him get to the finish line, » said Soner Çağaptay, director of the Turkish research program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The main theme of the close race was the country’s economic woes due to Erdoğan’s unorthodox policies which led to high inflation and a declining currency.
Erdoğan’s critics also say he has undermined his country’s democracy and describe Sunday’s vote as a step towards a more authoritarian government.
The president won the vote in the first round with 49.5% and 27 million votes, 2.5 million more than his rival. The coalition led by his AK party has also secured control of the Turkish parliament.
In the aftermath of the first round, in which Kılıçdaroğlu scored 45 percent, the opposition leader took a turn towards a more nationalist policy, striking a deal with far-right Victory Party chairman Ümit Özdağ and promising to deport millions of Syrian and Afghan refugees from Turkey.
But Kılıçdaroğlu failed to win the support of leading nationalist candidate Sinan Oğan, who finished third with 5 percent of the vote and who backed Erdoğan instead.
Despite the opposition’s nationalist streak, Selahattin Demirtaş, a jailed Kurdish politician, called on voters to support Kılıçdaroğlu in the second round.
“If there are no changes from the polls, it will be a disaster for the economy and democracy. There is no more round three of this matter. Let’s make Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu the president, let Türkiye breathe,” he said in a tweet.
Some analysts said the first-round results reflected the enduring appeal of Erdoğan’s populist and Islamist politics, particularly for Turkey’s rural heartland, which has remained far more loyal to the AK Party than the country’s largest cities. which have increasingly turned against the party in the long term. President.
Critics fear that under Erdoğan’s rule, Turkey’s ties with the West could weaken further and the independence of the country’s media, judiciary and other institutions will be pushed into sharper decline.
Çağaptay of the Washington Institute said Erdoğan was helped by « his complete control of the flow of information » in Turkey. Much of the media is controlled by economic groups close to the president and about 80% of Turks read the news only in their own language.
« It can ‘cure’ reality for them, » Çağaptay said. « It can frame part of the opposition as ‘backed’ by terrorists, and I think that’s where part of the electorate got stuck: They never got to the point of who is going to run Turkey better. »