On Sunday, millions will cast their ballots in one of the most critical elections in Türkiye’s recent history as incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan challenges two opposition candidates, and parties vie for parliamentary seats
Three candidates will run for Türkiye’s top office Sunday as more than 60 million voters will go to the polls for presidential elections. A total of 24 political parties and 151 independent candidates will compete for 600 seats.
The vote is viewed as critical both for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the opposition. The opposition bloc of six parties is the strongest rival incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has faced in the more than a dozen elections he competed in the past two decades. The opposition, represented by Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential election, sees it as the last chance to defeat Erdoğan, who has dominated the political landscape as prime minister and the president for years.
Apart from Kılıçdaroğlu of the Nation Alliance, Erdoğan will compete against the Ata Alliance, made up of smaller, nationalist parties who nominated academic Sinan Oğan. Muharrem Ince, the only candidate without an alliance, dropped out of the race on Thursday, though his name will remain on the ballots cast on Sunday.
The election day also marks the anniversary of the first multiparty, truly democratic elections of the Republic of Türkiye in 1950. Since then, Türkiye weathered four major coups, including the one that ousted the Democrat Party, the winner of the 1950 elections. Ultimately, democracy prevailed as the military juntas collapsed, defeated or withdrew.
The candidates will secure a five-year term if they can gain the majority at 191,884 ballot boxes set up at polling stations across Türkiye. Overseas voting already ended earlier this week while Turkish citizens living abroad will be allowed to cast their ballots at border crossings and airports until the same deadline with voters in Türkiye.
On Sunday, more than 4.9 million people will vote for the first time. The parties and candidates strived to win the hearts of first-time voters, mostly “Generation Z,” throughout their campaign period. First-timers may play a key role in influencing the outcome of the tight race.
The elections are also the first since the Feb. 6 earthquakes that hit Türkiye’s southern regions. Dubbed the “disaster of the century” for the sheer scale of the destruction, the two massive earthquakes killed more than 50,000 people and affected 11 provinces. The Supreme Election Council (YSK) set up temporary polling stations in provinces affected by the disaster where the majority of the population still reside in temporary housing units while a massive reconstruction is underway.
Voters originally from the earthquake-hit provinces will be able to cast their ballots in cities and towns they resettled in, but their votes will be added to the votes of the city they currently reside, rather than the earthquake-hit provinces where they were initially registered to vote.
Some 133,000 voters from earthquake-hit provinces are now registered in other provinces.
The polls will open at 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. The unofficial election results are expected to be declared by the YSK in a few hours after the polls close.
This is also the first election with the possibility of a second round. If none of the candidates can secure more than 50% of the vote, a second round will be held on May 28.
Speaking to Anadolu Agency (AA) on Friday, YSK President Ahmet Yener said they took every measure to ensure a safe and smooth election. “We have all measures for a healthy election environment in place. All measures are taken against possible power outages on the day of the election and possible cyberattacks,” he assured.
Also speaking on overseas votes, Yener said they were brought to Türkiye safely under the supervision of diplomatic couriers by planes allocated solely to transportation of the votes and under the watch of representatives of political parties. “It will be a celebration of democracy. I advise all eligible citizens to cast their votes,” he said.
Alliances and candidates
Erdoğan is running as the presidential candidate for the People’s Alliance, or “Cumhur İttifakı” as it is known in Turkish. “Cumhur” here is derived from “cumhurbaşkanı,” or “president of people” in Turkish, and refers to the formal title of the president. Apart from the AK Party, the alliance consists of the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), a longtime ally of the AK Party, the Great Union Party (BBP), which was formed by former MHP supporters, and the New Welfare Party (YRP) led by Erdoğan’s mentor late prime minister Necmettin Erbakan’s son Fatih Erbakan.
The Free Cause Party (HÜDA-PAR) and the Democratic Left Party (DSP) also endorse the alliance, with leaders of both parties running under the AK Party banner in the parliamentary election.
The 69-year-old leader, hailing from a family originally from the Black Sea region in the north, was born in Istanbul, where he grew up in a working-class neighborhood, the son of parents with modest means. Drawn to politics in his formative years, Erdoğan was an active member of a nationalist students’ union.
His oratory skills and devotion endeared Erdoğan to the National View movement of Necmettin Erbakan, a politician who served as prime minister in coalition governments and leader of different parties with a conservative base.
The charismatic local politician was picked as a candidate to run the municipality of the city. He was supported by Erbakan’s Welfare Party (RP) in 1994. An unprecedented victory in which he won over 25% of the vote against candidates of left-wing and right-wing parties, which long dominated Istanbul politics, was the first step to making Erdoğan a household name.
However, his job was difficult: improving the state of Türkiye’s most populated city, which faced myriad problems from the legacy of past administrations, such as chronic water shortages.
His accomplishments in the office helped his popularity rise but Erdoğan, for his opponents, was still a “religious conservative with a hidden agenda.” At a time the government faced a coup by a powerful military irked by Erbakan’s “reactionary” ideology, an innocuous poem with “reactionary” undertones landed Erdoğan in jail in 1999, two years after he recited the “Soldier’s Prayer” by prominent Turkish nationalist Ziya Gökalp to an emotional crowd.
He served a four-month stint in prison but lost his job as Istanbul’s mayor.
Undaunted, Erdoğan continued his political career in a post-coup environment, joining fellow politicians planning to establish a new “conservative democracy” movement. The movement, the brainchild of Erdoğan and others from the National View and Erbakan’s parties and people alienated by post-coup politics, evolved into the AK Party.
Under Erdoğan, the AK Party gained a parliamentary majority in the 2002 elections by winning more than 34% of the vote, a surprising result for a party new to the political scene. Erdoğan was subject to a political ban due to his past prison sentence and handed over the duty of founding the government to Abdullah Gül, who later would be his predecessor as president.
An amendment in legal regulations that enforced his political ban paved the way for Erdoğan to be elected to Parliament. In 2003, Gül handed over the post of prime minister to Erdoğan, initiating the lengthy tenure of Erdoğan in the top offices of the state of Türkiye.
Erdoğan led the AK Party to more victories in local and general elections in the ensuing years. He also has the coveted title of becoming the first president directly elected by the public in 2014. Previously, the post of the Presidency has been largely ceremonial. Erdoğan’s presidency was still ceremonial, but this also changed after a 2017 referendum saw Erdoğan winning public approval for a switch to an executive presidency.
In 2018, he added another title ahead of his name: the first president of the administrative presidency system.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu is the main challenger of Erdoğan. The 74-year-old leader of the CHP is the oldest candidate and desperately seeks to draw younger votes with his social media videos. A former bureaucrat who is mocked by Erdoğan for ruining the social security agency he headed for years, Kılıçdaroğlu did not see any success at all in politics, except for succeeding the late Deniz Baykal in 2010 as leader of the CHP.
He is relatively new to the upper echelons of politics and was elected lawmaker the same year the AK Party thrust into the political scene. Carving out a public image of a man of modest means, Kılıçdaroğlu is credited with transforming the CHP from a conventional secular party with Kemalist ideology into a more “left-wing” party, alienating old supporters and finding new company and support from more far-left elements in Turkish politics. His attempt to draw the support of the pro-PKK Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) for elections angered voters. Still, thanks to the support of the opposition bloc, Kılıçdaroğlu appears closest to victory for the first time.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s Nation Alliance is comprised of the Future Party (GP), the Democrat Party (DP), the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), the Good Party (IP) and the Felicity Party (SP), apart from the CHP. The DEVA and the GP are led by Ali Babacan and Ahmet Davutoğlu, respectively, two prominent former members of the AK Party who served as economy minister and prime minister, respectively.
The DP is the smallest of the parties in the alliance. The IP was formed by Meral Akşener, a former interior minister who once served in the MHP. The SP is led by Temel Karamollaoğlu, a former mayor and one of the parties claiming the political legacy of Necmettin Erbakan.
Sinan Oğan represents the Ata Alliance of several small parties whose names were not well known among the public, which has had a profound enthusiasm in politics since the early days of democracy. The Victory or Zafer Party is the most prominent among the alliance, founded by Ümit Özdağ, a former lawmaker from the MHP.
Özdağ initially sought to nominate Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavaş (who now sides with Kılıçdaroğlu and the Nation Alliance) before rallying other parties to endorse Oğan. An academic interested in the Turkic world, Oğan founded a nationalist think-tank and was elected to Parliament from the MHP in 2011.
Four years later, he fell out with the MHP and was expelled from the party when he became more vocal against the MHP’s alliance with the AK Party. Their “nationalist” opposition to the MHP’s stance ended up with his expulsion and resignation of several lawmakers, including Meral Akşener. Oğan represents a hardline far-right mindset, particularly of Özdağ, whose sole policy appears to staunch opposition to refugees and migration, a notion that curried support of some far-right elements at a time of increase in the number of refugees.
Two other alliances did not field a candidate. The Labor and Freedom Alliance is made up of the Green Left Party (YSP) and the Workers’ Party of Turkey (TIP). The alliance endorses Kılıçdaroğlu in the presidential vote. The YSP is the new name of the HDP, which decided to run under that name in the elections amid the risk of closure due to a lawsuit over their alleged ties to the PKK terrorist group. The second, the Socialist Co-Operative Alliance, consists of the Left Party, the Communist Party of Türkiye and the Communist Movement of Türkiye.
Source: Daily Sabah
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