- Opinion polls show opposition
- The results will be out by Sunday evening
- Second stage will be held on May 28 if not more than 50%
- Erdogan voted in Istanbul, rival Kilicdaroglu in Ankara
ISTANBUL, May 14 (Reuters) – Turks voted in a key election on Sunday, ready to oust President Tayyip Erdogan, end his government’s increasingly authoritarian path or usher in his third decade in power.
The vote will determine not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member nation of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amid a deep cost-of-living crisis and the shape of its foreign policy.
Polls have given Erdoğan’s main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads the six-party coalition, a slight lead, with two polls on Friday showing him above the 50% threshold needed to win. If neither wins more than 50% of the vote on Sunday, a second round of voting will be held on May 28.
Polls for the election to the new parliament close at 5pm (1400 GMT). Turkish law prohibits the announcement of any results until late Sunday at 9 p.m., a good indication of whether there will be a runoff.
“I see these elections as a choice between democracy and dictatorship,” said 64-year-old Ahmet Kalkan as he voted for Klikdaroglu in Istanbul, echoing critics who fear Erdogan will rule even more autocratically if he wins.
“I chose democracy and I hope my country chooses democracy,” said Kalkan, a retired health department employee.
Erdogan, 69 and the veteran of a dozen election victories, says he values democracy and denies being a dictator.
Explaining how the president still commands support, Mehmet Akif Kahraman, a pollster in Istanbul, said Erdogan represents the future after two decades in power.
“God willing, Turkey will be a world leader,” he said.
Voters elsewhere in the country also voted for and against Erdogan, a polarizing figure in hopes of extending his tenure as the longest-reigning incumbent since the founding of modern Turkey 100 years ago.
The election comes three months after earthquakes in southeastern Turkey killed more than 50,000 people. Many in the affected provinces have expressed anger about the slow initial government response, but there is little evidence that the issue has changed how people will vote.
Voting in Istanbul, Erdogan shook the hands of election officials and spoke to a television reporter at a polling station.
“We pray to God for a better future for our country, nation and Turkish democracy,” he said.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, rose to applause from the waiting crowd as he cast his vote in Ankara.
“I offer my most sincere love and respect to all my fellow citizens who go to the polling booth and vote. We all miss democracy dearly,” he told the assembled media.
The parliamentary vote is a tight contest between Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) and the People’s Alliance, which includes the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilikdaroğlu’s Nation coalition, which includes six opposition parties, including his secular Republican Party (CHP). Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was the founder of Turkey.
The vote is being monitored by a mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which said it would deliver a preliminary report on its findings on Monday.
Change or Continuity
Erdogan, a powerful orator and master campaigner, pulled out all the stops on the campaign trail. He commands fierce loyalty from devout Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkey and his political career has survived an attempted coup in 2016 and several corruption scandals.
However, Turks’ ousting of Erdogan has seen their prosperity and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation rising to 85% in October 2022 and a collapse in the lira currency.
Kilicdaroglu promises to return to orthodox economic policies from Erdogan’s heavy-handed administration if he wins.
Kilicdaroglu also says he is seeking to return Turkey to a parliamentary system of government, away from Erdogan’s executive presidency, which was passed in a 2017 referendum. He has also promised to restore the independence of the judiciary, which critics say Erdogan has used to quell dissent. .
Erdogan has tightly controlled most of Turkey’s institutions, marginalizing liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2022, noted that Erdogan’s government has set back Turkey’s human rights record for decades.
Kurdish voters, who make up 15-20% of the electorate, will play an important role, and the National Coalition is unlikely to achieve a parliamentary majority on its own.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) is not part of the main opposition coalition, but remains fiercely opposed to Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years.
The HDP has announced its support for Kilicdaroglu for the presidency. It is entering the parliamentary elections under the Small Green Left party’s symbol because of a court case filed by a top prosecutor seeking to ban the HDP over its links to Kurdish militants, which the party denies.
Written by Alexandra Hudson Editing by Frances Kerry
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