What are the hazards in runoff? By Reuters


© Reuters. People walk past posters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ahead of the presidential run-off elections on May 28, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 25, 2023. REUTERS/Umit Bektas


(Reuters) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aims to extend his rule into a third decade in Sunday’s elections, as momentum was seen in his favor in a run-off after the first round showed him ahead of rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Already buoyed by a parliamentary majority won by the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies on May 14, Erdogan got another boost on Monday thanks to a national political backing that came third in the first round.

The election will determine not only who leads Turkey but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed, and the shape of its foreign policy. Kilicdaroglu, who has secured the endorsement of another far-right leader, is backed by a six-party coalition including the Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Erdogan, the longest-serving leader in modern Turkey, has championed religious piety and low interest rates at home while asserting Turkish influence in the region and easing the NATO member’s ties with the West.

The elections take place three months after the earthquakes in southeastern Turkey, which claimed the lives of more than 50 thousand people.

What is at stake for Turkey…

The most powerful leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded the modern Turkish Republic a century ago, Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have distanced Turkey from Ataturk’s secular blueprint.

Erdogan has also centered his power around an executive presidency, housed in a thousand-room palace on the outskirts of Ankara, that sets policy on economic, security, domestic and international affairs for Turkey.

Erdogan’s critics say his government has silenced dissent, undermined rights and brought the justice system under its control, a charge denied by officials who say it has protected citizens against unique security threats including a 2016 coup attempt.

Economists say Erdogan’s calls for lower rates sent inflation soaring to a 24-year high of 85% last year, and the lira plummeting to a tenth of its value against the dollar over the past decade.

…and the rest of the world?

Under Erdogan’s rule, Turkey has flexed its military might in the Middle East and beyond, launching four incursions into Syria, launching an offensive against Kurdish militants inside Iraq and sending military support to Libya and Azerbaijan.

Turkey also witnessed a series of diplomatic clashes with regional powers Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Israel, as well as a confrontation with Greece and Cyprus over the maritime borders of the eastern Mediterranean, until it changed course two years ago and sought rapprochement. with some of its competitors.

Erdogan’s purchase of Russian air defenses has prompted US arms industry sanctions against Ankara, while his closeness to Russian President Vladimir Putin has led critics to question Turkey’s commitment to Western defense NATO. Ankara’s objections to NATO membership applications by Sweden and Finland have also raised tensions.

However, Turkey also brokered a deal for Ukrainian wheat exports, underscoring the potential role Erdogan played in efforts to end the Ukraine war. It is not clear if Khalifa will have the same image he created on the world stage, a point he made in his election campaign.

What does the opposition preach?

Two main opposition parties, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the centre-right nationalist IYI Party, allied themselves with four smaller parties under a platform that would reverse many of Erdogan’s signature policies.

They have vowed to restore independence to the central bank and reverse Erdoğan’s unorthodox economic policies. They will also dismantle his executive presidency in favor of the former parliamentary system, and send back the Syrian refugees.

They also aim to improve relations with Western allies including the United States, and bring Turkey back into the F-35 fighter jet programme, which was banned after buying Russian missile defenses.

Analysts believe that the policies promised by the opposition may stimulate foreign investment.

Erdogan endorsed failed efforts to overthrow Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while hosting at least 3.6 million Syrian refugees who are becoming increasingly unwelcome at a time of economic hardship for Turkey.

Seeking a push back from nationalist voters, Kilicdaroglu has in the past two weeks sharpened his anti-immigrant rhetoric and promised to repatriate migrants.

How close is the race?

Kilicdaroglu received 44.9% in the first round against 49.5% for Erdogan, reflecting strong support despite the deepening cost of living crisis and opinion polls showing Kilicdaroglu ahead. Later polls indicated an unexpected increase in nationalist support at the polls to explain the result.

Erdogan said that voting for him would ensure stability after his coalition won a parliamentary majority.

Turkey’s four-decade conflict with the hardline Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has involved the electoral campaign, along with the role of the main Kurdish political parties.

Although not part of the opposition coalition, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is staunchly opposed to Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years and has endorsed Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan’s attacks on Kilicdaroglu included accusations, without evidence, that he won the support of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency since the 1980s in which more than 40,000 people have been killed. Kilicdaroglu denied the accusations.

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