Turkish voters return to the polls in presidential run-off

Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeking to extend his leadership into third decade

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Voters in Turkey returned to the polls on Sunday for a pivotal presidential run-off that could see President Recep Tayyip Erdogan extend his tenure at the top into a third decade.

Voting began at 8am local time and will close at 5pm, with Turks living abroad having already cast their ballots.

Mr Erdogan, leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was unable to avoid a run-off when he failed to obtain 50 per cent of the votes in the first round of voting two weeks ago – although he is still the favourite.

He is facing his strongest opposition campaign yet, although his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu won about 5 per cent fewer votes in the initial round.

Ahmet Yener, chairman of the Supreme Election Board, said in a statement the results were expected to come faster compared to the first round because the run-off process was much simpler.

This is because the poll on May 14 also included parliamentary votes and more presidential candidates.

Mr Erdogan said the "vote counting process will be very fast today" after casting his ballot.

An election observer told The National the voting was proceeding more quickly and smoothly than in the first round.

Voter turnout will not be known until polls close but is expected to continue to be high – it was around 87 per cent in the first round.

Mr Erdogan has been accused of increased authoritarianism, repression of dissent and consolidating power, while his unorthodox financial policies have in part been blamed for damaging Turkey's economy and causing inflation to soar.

He has argued that, given the majority his party and its allies have in parliament, a vote for him is a vote for stability.

Both leaders have courted the votes from supporters of smaller hard-right and nationalist political parties.

Mr Kilicdaroglu, leader of the avowedly secular Republican People's Party (CHP), has pledged to make the country more democratic and fair.

Supporters of Mr Erdogan have accused the CHP leader of colluding with "terrorists" because he has aligned with a pro-Kurdish party, which the AKP accuses of being the political front for the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

However, in a bid to attract more votes, he has recently engaged in more anti-Syrian refugee rhetoric.

The 74-year-old, whose party was formed by the founder of modern Turkey Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, is the candidate of a six-party alliance.

While many in Turkey would like to see Syrian refugees return home, their main concerns are related to the economy and other matters.

Ali Coliskan, 47, said he was voting for Mr Kilicdaroglu because “the colour of the country got lost” under Mr Erdogan.

He said the President “put Turkey in a dark time”.

“Corruption and bribery have become common. Because of this, Turkey's economy has also fallen into a difficult situation. People can't afford to survive,” Mr Coliskan said.

“I am voting for Kilicdaroglu because he will bring that colour back and will manage Turkey under the constitution.”

Last October, inflation touched 85 per cent and the Turkish lira has plunged in value against the dollar. Mr Erdogan has persisted with his belief that low interest rates can solve high inflation, despite evidence to the contrary.

Outside a polling station in the Istanbul neighbourhood of Dolapdere Beyoglu, Mustafa Sari, a security manager at a local university, said he had voted for the CHP leader.

Asked why, the 50 year old said it was “because I want democracy and justice again. Only Kilicdaroglu can bring this".

“But on the other side, Erdogan is a one-man dictatorship. He destroyed the base of the country’s ruling system. The man I want to win is the man who can build a secular system.”

At the same voting station, Islam Cakir implied he voted for Mr Erdogan but would not say so directly.

“I can’t say who I voted for, but the man I want to win should be humble and work for the youth.

“For almost 20 years we have been good, we can continue for five years in a positive way. OK, the economy is a little broken but it’s almost 20 years that the economy was doing well. It’s only in the last two years it has been bad. He can bring it back again.”

Vehbiye Direk, a mother of three, said she had voted for the CHP leader in the first round but was now likely to switch sides.

“The CHP does not understand me,” she said. “I need a house to raise my children, but I can't afford it and CHP doesn't help me enough. I think I am now voting for Erdogan. He's helping me to raise my children and I am afraid that if CHP comes to power, they are going to ban the hijab.”

Updated: May 28, 2023, 1:38 PM