Istanbul (AFP) Turkey on Friday reached the home stretch of a bitter presidential campaign that has seen Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his secular rival exploit fears over Kurdish migrants and militants.
Published on: Amended:
Erdogan appears on track to extend two decades of his Islamic style of rule until 2028 in Sunday’s runoff.
His victory would preserve the key NATO member’s reputation as a problem child who plays on rivalries between Moscow and Washington while pushing his own path in the Middle East.
Secular opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu presented a clear alternative to Erdogan in the first round on May 14.
The former official led an inclusive campaign that pledged to mend ties with Western allies and solve Turkey’s economic problems with orthodox prescriptions rejected by Erdogan.
Kilicdaroglu created a six-party alliance that brought together some of Turkey’s most irreconcilable forces and received crucial support from the Kurds.
It was the type of coalition that Erdogan was good at building while repeatedly winning at the polls.
But Kilicdaroglu still lost nearly five points in what was widely considered Erdogan’s toughest election – and the most important in Turkey’s post-Ottoman history.
The 74-year-old opposition leader disappeared for four days and then reappeared as a transformed man.
He abandoned his calls for social cohesion in the highly polarized country and instead focused on deporting millions of migrants and tackling militants.
“As soon as I come to power, I will send all the refugees home,” Kilicdaroglu said in his first post-election speech.
Erdogan responded along the same lines.
He doubled down on his attempts to make Kilicdaroglu an ally of outlaw Kurdish militants and mocked opposition attempts to talk tough on security issues.
“Until yesterday they were terrorist lovers,” Erdogan said of his rivals this week.
“You are the coward who cooperates with the terrorists,” Kilicdaroglu retorted on Twitter.
Some analysts regard this campaign as Turkey’s dirtiest in recent memory.
“I have followed dozens of campaigns since 1979, and I have never seen the two candidates lie so clearly,” Can Dundar, former exiled editor of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, told AFP. ‘Germany.
“This is the first time we’ve seen such an insult-filled campaign,” Dundar said.
Most pre-election polls in Turkey underestimated the level of support for Erdogan in the first round.
They now show him leading by five points or more – a margin that has instilled a sense of panic in Turkish financial markets.
Circumstantial evidence shows that Turks are dumping their liras and stocking up on gold and dollars in anticipation of a currency crash after the election.
Official data shows Turkey’s central bank burning $25 billion in a month while trying to prop up the lira.
Turkey’s net foreign currency reserves – an important measure of a country’s financial stability – fell into negative territory for the first time since 2002.
And the lira itself hit the $20 mark for the first time on Friday.
A dollar was worth only 4.5 liras when Erdogan won his last national elections in June 2018.
“Doomsday for the Turkish economy and financial markets may be upon us,” warned consultancy firm Capital Economics.
Kilicdaroglu’s decision to ally himself with a far-right fringe group this week nearly cost him the support of a pro-Kurdish party that accounts for a tenth of the vote in Turkey.
The Kurdish-backed HDP decided on Thursday not to back a ballot boycott because it would only prolong Erdogan’s “one-man rule”.
But HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan made no secret of his frustrations with Kilicdaroglu’s new approach.
“It’s wrong to score political points on immigrants or refugees,” Buldan said.
Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu are now focusing on participation.
“We cannot let the feeling of being ahead drag us into complacency,” Erdogan said at one of his daily rallies on Friday.
“We must have no other plans than to vote on Sunday,” he told his supporters. “Go have your picnic later.”
The turnout in the first round reached a whopping 87%.
The data showed that the participation of the 3.4 million Turks living abroad increased slightly in the second round from 1.7 to 1.9 million.
Many of those voters are descendants of Turks who left poorer provinces for Western Europe and who traditionally support more conservative candidates.
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