Turkey Elections 2023: The poll to end Erdogan’s 20-year rule?

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has called the May 14 polls the "fight of his life", as his grip on popular approval in Turkey has progressively loosened over the years. Will today see history?

A Turkish voter casts their ballot in Turkey on Sunday, May 14. (Photo: DW)
A Turkish voter casts their ballot in Turkey on Sunday, May 14. (Photo: DW)

Amarabati Bhattacharyya

Voting is underway in Turkey’s historic elections as incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan faces the biggest political challenge of his 20-year rule. The outcome could significantly alter Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies. 

More than 64 million eligible voters, including nearly 5 million first-time voters, are casting their ballots in Turkey to elect a president and a parliament for a five-year term this Sunday. The 3.4 million overseas voters have already cast their ballots.

Polling stations opened at 8:00 am (local time) and will close at 5:00 pm. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has deployed several observers to monitor the polls.

For the first-time in his two-decade rule, Erdogan is not the obvious choice—all exit polls currently favour his toughest challenger, Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu. The leader of the Republican People's Party and the joint presidential candidate of the six-party main opposition alliance, the Nation Alliance, Kiliçdaroğlu (74) is regarded as an 'anti-corruption bureaucrat'.

Latest opinion polls predict a tight race between Kiliçdaroğlu and Erdoğan, with the former set to gain about 49 per cent of all votes and the latter to get around 45 per cent. However, if either of them fail to get more than 50 per cent of the vote, a round of runoff voting will be held on May 28. 

Erdoğan's grasp of Turkey's politics has been unmatched over the past 100 years. However, he has been under significant scrutiny over the country's ongoing economic crisis, increasing restrictions on human rights and the rule of authoritarian law in recent years. 

Critics have claimed that Erdoğan's dispensation has shifted Turkey away from its "longstanding secular traditions towards religious conservatism". 

Erdoğan's party, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi, or AKP), has also received massive backlash for going forward with the May 14 elections despite the recent devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people. The AKP government is also facing mounting criticism over the impact of the earthquake—critics have highlighted that the government spent years granting amnesty to builders and homeowners for code violations that made structures less safe. It has also been held accountable for slow, mismanaged humanitarian aid.

Terming this election the ‘fight of his life’, throughout his campaign Erdoğan has accused the opposition of "godlessness", of "supporting terrorism" or of being "motivated by terrorists". His election campaign is otherwise focused on the opening of large-scale state projects, such as the unveiling of the first aircraft carrier and the inauguration of the first nuclear power plant.

On the other hand, his primary opponent Kiliçdaroğlu has urged supporters "to not celebrate should he win as it could lead to clashes with Erdogan’s violent supporters".

The German parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee chairman Michael Roth said that the ongoing elections are "probably the last chance" for the opposition to democratically remove Erdoğan from power after two decades.

The 69-year-old AKP chief began as the mayor of Istanbul from 1994 to 1998, and then progressively rose to the top position in the country. Erdoğan had just cast his own vote for the nation's future a few minutes ago, at the time of writing.

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