Turkey is heading to the polls on Sunday in a crucial presidential and parliamentary election that will determine the country’s future for years to come.
The incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing a strong challenge from Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the candidate of a six-party alliance that includes nationalists, liberals, socialists and Kurds.
Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for 20 years, is seeking another five-year term with sweeping executive powers that he gained after a constitutional referendum in 2017. He has campaigned on his achievements in transforming Turkey’s economy, infrastructure and defense industry, as well as his assertive foreign policy.
Kilicdaroglu, who has been dubbed “the professor” for his mild-mannered and intellectual style, has promised to restore democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Turkey, which he says have been eroded under Erdogan’s authoritarian rule. He has also pledged to tackle the country’s economic woes, such as high inflation, unemployment and debt.
The election is expected to be a close race, with most opinion polls showing Erdogan slightly ahead of Kilicdaroglu, but neither of them reaching the 50% threshold needed to win outright in the first round. A possible runoff is scheduled for May 28.
The outcome of the election will also depend on the performance of the smaller parties and candidates, such as Meral Aksener of the nationalist Good Party, Selahattin Demirtas of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and Temel Karamollaoglu of the Islamist Felicity Party.
The parliamentary election, which will be held simultaneously with the presidential one, will also be crucial for determining the balance of power in Turkey’s 600-seat legislature. Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) has formed an alliance with four far-right or Islamist parties, while Kilicdaroglu’s CHP has joined forces with five other parties from across the political spectrum.
The election campaign has been marred by violence, polarization and censorship, as both sides have accused each other of undermining Turkey’s security and sovereignty. Erdogan has portrayed Kilicdaroglu as a puppet of foreign powers and terrorist groups, while Kilicdaroglu has accused Erdogan of being a dictator who has isolated Turkey from its allies and neighbors.
Millions of Turks living abroad have already cast their votes in the election, with a turnout of over 51%. The diaspora vote could play a decisive role in the outcome, especially in a tight race. About 3.4 million of Turkey’s 64.1 million registered voters live in Europe, mostly in Germany.
The election is being closely watched by Turkey’s regional and international partners, who are concerned about its stability and role in a volatile region. The election will also have implications for Turkey’s relations with NATO, the European Union, Russia, Iran and the United States.