Turks vote in major elections as Erdogan faces biggest threat to 20-year rule


Flag-waving supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rally ahead of presidential elections in Istanbul, Turkey, May 12, 2023. As voters head to polling stations for the general election, President Erdogan will face the biggest test of his election.

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Millions of Turks will turn out to vote on Sunday in what will be Turkey’s most important election in the last 20 years, with consequences far beyond its own borders.

The country of 85 million people will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on May 14. A run-off election will be held in two weeks if no candidate wins more than 50% in the expected close race.

Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed public anger over deteriorating economic conditions and the government’s slow response to a series of devastating earthquakes in February that killed more than 50,000 people. As he struggles, he faces the toughest test yet after 20 years in power.

Erdogan’s main opponent, Kemal Kirikdaroglu, 74, of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), is running as a united candidate representing six parties that want to oust Erdogan. .

In a perhaps game-changing development, one of four presidential candidates, Muharrem Inse, withdrew from the race on Thursday. A former CHP member, he came under heavy criticism for splitting the opposition vote in a way that undermined Kirikdaroglu’s chances.

Now that Ince is out of the race, his vote could go to Erdogan’s top challenger, Kirikda Rogul, which will help him a lot and create further difficulties for the 69-year-old Erdogan. may become

Another important factor is voter turnout. More than 5 million young Turks will be voting for the first time, but the higher the turnout among young people, the better for challengers and the worse for incumbents, election analysts say.

Election posters of 13th presidential candidate and chairman of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) Kemal Kilicidaroglu (left) and President of the Republic of Turkey and President of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) are on display. ing.

Tunahan Turhan | Sopa Images | Lightrocket | Getty Images

This high-stakes gamble has left many, both at home and abroad, wondering if Erdogan could contest the outcome if he fails to win.

“The most likely tactic he would use to try to overturn the vote would be to use his influence over the Electoral Commission (YSK), the courts and the media so that the election could be held again. It would be constructing a narrative that it should or should be reimplemented “illegal,” said Ryan Ball, senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at Raine. Erdoğan did this after his party was narrowly defeated in the 2019 Istanbul mayoral election and, after calling for a re-election, was again defeated by a large margin.

Some fear that any disputed outcome could lead to violence and instability, adding further instability to Turkey’s already damaged economy. Turkish and foreign analysts and rights activists have been sounding the alarm on the issue for years. increasingly authoritarian rule from the Erdogan regime.

CNBC has reached out to the Turkish president’s office for comment.

“So many things are at stake”

Located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and home to NATO’s second-largest military, the election results and their implications for the stability of the country are of vital importance, both domestically and internationally.

“Many things are at stake for the first time for President Erdogan and his AKP[Justice and Development Party]. “We are working on a positive campaign to create hope,” said Hakan Akbas, managing director of Strategic Advisory Services, a consulting firm based between Istanbul and Washington. rice field.

This is similar to “what Istanbul mayor Emrak Imamoglu did to twice win Erdogan’s AKP candidate in the 2019 mayoral election,” he said.

Imamoglu, a popular figure widely expected to run for president as a strong opponent of Erdogan, was sentenced to nearly three years in prison in December for what a court said he insulted a judge on the Supreme Electoral Council. and was shut out of the political world (YSK). Mr Imamoglu and his supporters said the charges were purely political and were influenced by Mr Erdogan and his party to sabotage Mr Erdogan and his political ambitions. claims.

Turkish President and Justice and Development (AK) Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan attend and address an election rally in Mardin, Turkiye, May 10, 2023.

Office of the President of Turkey | Handout | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

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