Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s effort to add five more years to his 20 years in power has soured the last hours of Turkey’s presidential contest.
In an effort to win over nationalist voters ahead of Sunday’s run-off election, opposition challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu promised to deport millions of Syrian refugees.
According to the president, a victory for Kilicdaroglu would be a victory for terrorists and accused him of using hate speech.
In the first round, the opposition candidate was behind by 2.5 million votes.
The president is the favorite, but his opponent thinks the gap could still be closed, either by the 2.8 million followers of the third-place finisher, an ultranationalist, or by the eight million people who did not participate in the first round of voting.
On the BaBaLa TV YouTube channel this week, Mr. Kilicdaroglu answered questions from viewers for four hours. According to the most recent figure, the show has had 24 million views, while there are 85 million people living in Turkey.
Mehtep, a youth activist, believes that the YouTube marathon could be successful: “Being on BaBaLa TV affected lots of young voters who didn’t vote the first time around.”
She is a member of the nationalist, center-right Good party, which has sponsored the opposition challenger and is led by Meral Aksener, the sole female politician in Turkey.
For a candidate attempting to counter his rival’s inherent advantage of owning around 90% of Turkish media, the appearance was a wise strategy.
Although voters may have had a real option, according to international observers, Turkey “did not fulfil the basic principles for holding a democratic election.”
In the past six years, President Erdogan has not only consolidated vast power but also cracked down on opposition and imprisoned political opponents.
The Turkish currency hit historic lows against the dollar on Friday as a result of the financial markets’ reaction, which predicted an Erdogan triumph and increased economic instability. The central bank’s net foreign currency reserves have fallen into negative territory for the first time since 2002 as a result of the spike in foreign currency demand.
In the town of Bala, an hour’s drive southeast of Ankara, it won’t matter much.
Even though all of the major parties have headquarters on the high street, President Erdogan received more than 60% of the vote there two weeks ago.
Al Ozdemir, the owner of a doner kebab business across the street from the president’s political office, declares he will vote for Mr. Erdogan to serve another five years in office.
Another shopkeeper, though, balked in telling the BBC who he backed because he feared alienating fans of Erdogan.
Turkey’s faltering economy has been the top concern for months, but as Sunday’s runoff draws near, the rhetoric has heated up and refugees are at its center.
The unifying 74-year-old opposition leader with his hands in his signature heart form is no longer present. He is instead attempting to win over supporters of ultranationalist leader Sinan Ogan from two Sundays ago.
Despite Mr. Ogan’s support for the president, Umit Ozdag’s anti-immigrant Victory Party, which received 1.2 million votes, backed the opposition leader.
According to the chairman of the Victory Party, Mr. Kilicdaroglu pledged this week to return “13 million migrants” within a year “in accordance with international law.”
Turkey hosts more refugees than any other nation, though not nearly that many.
The entire number of Syrian refugees and unauthorized migrants from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, according to Prof. Murat Erdogan (no related to President Erdogan), who runs the regular field research Syrians Barometer, is likely closer to six or seven million.
According to Prof. Erdogan, “their discourse is not realistic; it is physically impossible.” “Repatriating voluntarily is not possible, and returning en masse would require sending back more than 50,000 people every day.”
Although the rhetoric is nasty, it could have an impact. According to polls, up to 85% of Turks want the Syrian refugees to return home.
According to political scientist Nezih Onur Kuru from Koc University, both sides must maintain the support of nationalist parties, and Mr. Kilicdaroglu is appealing to voters’ anxieties about security, particularly those of younger people.
He is aware that there are too many perceived risks due to the immigration crisis, terrorist assaults, and the wars involving Russia, Syria, and Azerbaijan.
Erdogan claims to be returning Syrian refugees already and has plans to send more. The far-right nationalist MHP is his main ally.
He has also stepped up his campaign, using a doctored video at a rally to associate his opponent with the PKK, a militant Kurdish group that is regarded as a terrorist organization both in the West and Turkey.
On Friday, he claimed that a victory for Kilicdaroglu meant that “terrorist groups” would triumph.
He is going after the sizable pro-Kurdish HDP party, which supports Mr. Kilicdaroglu and which President Erdogan has repeatedly attempted to link to PKK terrorists. Any such links are rejected by the HDP.
The HDP currently supports Mr. Kilicdaroglu because it wants to remove the “one-man regime” in Turkey. However, it has legitimate reservations about his association with a far-right nationalist.
At first, it was believed that President Erdogan may lose due to his awful management of Turkey’s economy and his inadequate response to the earthquakes in February.
And yet he received about 50% of the vote. Whether Mr. Kilicdaroglu’s shift of strategy will be successful is the question.
In her chicken restaurant in Bala, Songul claims, “I wanted a change, and all my customers wanted a change.
But in the end, she claims that everyone is sticking with the president because they don’t trust his rival: “There is no choice but to vote for Erdogan.”