Turkey's opposition scrambles to restart campaigning as run-off looms

CHP candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu has renewed outreach to young people while blasting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's handling of economic crisis

Officials count ballots at a polling station during presidential and parliamentary elections in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul. Bloomberg
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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan may have failed to clinch a first-round victory in Sunday's election but the opposition is aware a run-off is still likely to play out in his favour.

Campaigning took off again on Tuesday, with Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu issuing a renewed call to young voters to head to the polls once more on May 28..

On the Asian side of Istanbul, locals in the CHP stronghold of Kadikoy had differing political views but all agreed the opposition would need to up its game.

“It didn't go how I expected,” said Mehmet Ocan, a restaurant owner who voted for Mr Kilicdaroglu.

“The others vote for Erdogan but they don't understand the situation we are in. The next two weeks won't change anything.

“AKP [Justice and Development Party] voters are from the poorest classes in Turkey and yet they still vote for him.

“You can't explain anything to them – even with their [economic] situation, they're still only thinking about a 'powerful leader'.”

Turkey's five million first-time voters were expected to give a boost to the opposition. Many young people who spoke to The National in Istanbul said they were voting for Mr Kilicdaroglu amid an economic crisis that has left them with little hope for their future.

The CHP leader has renewed outreach to young people, addressing them in a series of tweets on Tuesday while referencing the country's economic turmoil fuelled by the President's stubborn refusal to raise interest rates.

“You don't have enough money for anything,” he said. “Your joy of life was taken away. Whereas youth should be free of worry.

“You won't get your youth back again. We have 12 days to get out of this dark tunnel.”

Turkey elections: Run-off vote appears likely

ANKARA, TURKEY - MAY 15: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan acknowledges supporters at AK Party headquarters on May 15, 2023 in Ankara, Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced his biggest electoral test as the country voted in the general election. Erdogan has been in power for more than two decades -- first as prime minister, then as president -- but his popularity had recently taken a hit due to Turkey's ongoing economic crisis and his government's response to a series of devastating earthquakes. Meanwhile, the political opposition united around one candidate, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. (Photo by Burak Kara / Getty Images)

Another surprise in Sunday's vote was the level of AKP support in areas devastated by the February earthquake, where many had criticised the President's response.

Mr Kilicdaroglu also appealed to them on social media.

“No politics is worth breaking the hearts of those people,” he tweeted on Tuesday.

Researcher Mesut Yegen told The National that the opposition failed to attract strong support in this area but the AKP victory should not be overstated.

The AKP did well, but Sunday's result was its “lowest rate” of support since 2002, he said.

“If you look at details its difficult to say the AKP itself was successful. The alliance [Mr Erdogan] built has happened to be successful,” he said.

“Even there, the opposition could not convince those who suffered in the earthquake that the opposition would do better than Erdogan that they come to power.”

For some voters, Mr Erdogan is still preferable to his rival.

“For me, the election went well,” Volkan Oze said outside his shoe shop.

“The AK party will succeeded and beat Kilicdaroglu” in the second round, he added.

“The opposition said Kilicdaroglu would win but it doesn’t match with reality. I don’t like his personality, I don’t like him as a man and he’s the reason the CHP lost.”

Updated: May 16, 2023, 4:50 PM