Turkey votes in high-stakes president, parliament polls

ISTANBUL: Turks voted on Sunday in dual parliamentary and presidential polls seen as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s toughest election test, with the opposition revitalised and his popularity at risk from growing economic troubles.
Over 56 million eligible voters were for the first time casting ballots in both elections, with Erdogan looking for a first round knockout and an overall majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to extend his 15 year grip on power.
But both these goals are in doubt in the face of an energetic campaign by the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) candidate Muharrem Ince, who has rivalled Erdogan’s charisma and crowd-pulling on the campaign trail, and a strong opposition alliance in the legislative polls.
“I hope for the best for our nation,” said Ince as he cast his ballot in his native port town of Yalova south of Istanbul, vowing to spend the night at the headquarters of Turkey’s election authority in Ankara to ensure a fair count.
Voting in Istanbul along with his son-in-law and Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Erdogan said he expected turnout to be strong in an indication of “how mature democracy is in Turkey.”
The CHP said it had recorded violations in particular in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa.
But Erdogan insisted there was no major problem.
In a later tweet, Ince vowed to protect every vote “with my life.”
Erdogan has overseen historic change in Turkey since his ruling party first came to power in 2002 after years of secular domination. But critics accuse the Turkish strongman, 64, of trampling on civil liberties.
He remains the favourite to hold on to the presidency — even if he needs a second round on July 8 — but the outcome is likely to be much tighter than he expected when calling the snap polls one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule.
Although Erdogan dominated airtime on a pliant mainstream media, Ince finished his campaign with eye-catching mass rallies, including a mega meeting in Istanbul on Saturday attended by hundreds of thousands.
“Even if the odds are on the incumbent’s side, the race is likely to be far tighter than many expected,” said Ilke Toygur, analyst at the Elcano Royal Institute and adjunct professor at University Carlos III in Madrid.
The stakes in this election are particularly high as the new president will be the first to enjoy enhanced powers under a new constitution agreed in an April 2017 referendum strongly backed by Erdogan.
As he cast his vote, Erdogan said the changes marked a “democratic revolution”, although his opponents regard the most recent phase of his rule differently.
The president had for the last two years ruled under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the 2016 failed coup, with tens of thousands
arrested in an unprecedented crackdown which cranked up tensions with the West. — AFP