Turkey election: Erdogan faces battle for survival as polls close

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Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

(CNN) – Voting is now over and counting is underway in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections that could end the 20-year rule of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Sunday’s match is the biggest challenge yet for Turkey’s formidable leader. He faces criticism and economic interventions that the impact of the devastating earthquake on February 6 was exacerbated by lax building regulations and ridiculous recovery efforts.

His main opponent is CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, who represents an electoral coalition of six opposition parties. For the first time, Turkey’s opposition has united around a single candidate.

A candidate must get 50% of the votes on Sunday night to be elected. Otherwise Turkey will face the run-off on May 28.

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Voters line up outside a polling station on May 14, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey.

Francisco Seco/AP

An election representative prepares ballots at a polling station in a polling station in Istanbul.

“My vote is for freedom,” voter Korhan Futasi, 46, told CNN from a polling station in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district. My vote is for the future of our children. I am confident.

Yelis Sahin, 46, whose brother and son died in the earthquake: “This is a historic moment, we have been waiting for 20 years. This whole system needs to be changed.”

Meanwhile, 19-year-old Eren Uzmele, who voted for the first time, said: “The future of the country is in our hands. It is in the hands of the youth,” he said.

Kılıçdaroğlu, a 74-year-old former bureaucrat, has promised to fix Turkey’s sagging economy and restore democratic institutions compromised by Erdogan’s slide into authoritarianism.

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After voting in Istanbul, Erdogan told reporters: “We pray to God for a better future for our country, our nation and Turkish democracy. To prove the strength of Turkish democracy, it is very important that all our voters vote without any worries till 17.00 pm.

Meanwhile, after voting in Ankara, Kılıcdaroglu said: “We all missed democracy, being together and embracing more. I hope you will see spring come to this country from now on and it will always continue.

Erdogan ended his election campaign on Saturday night with a prayer at Hagia Sophia, a mosque and major historical site in Istanbul. In contrast, Kıltaroğlu visited the tomb of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey and a radical secularist.

Erdogan extols the virtues of his long rule, including stability, an independent foreign policy and the continued development of Turkey’s defense sector. Recently, he raised the wages of civil servants by 45% and lowered the retirement age.

Over the past two years, Turkey’s currency has fallen and prices have ballooned, fueling a cost-of-living crisis that has alienated Erdogan’s conservative, working-class support base.

Erdogan faced political setbacks on February 6 when a devastating earthquake laid waste to large parts of southeastern Turkey. His critics chastised him for a poor recovery effort and lax building regulations led by his ruling Justice and Development (AK) party for two decades.

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A view of empty ballot papers at a polling station in Ankara.

Francisco Seco/AP

A woman casts her vote at a polling station in Istanbul.

In the weeks after the earthquake, the government rounded up dozens of contractors, construction inspectors and project managers for violating building codes. Critics dismissed the move as sacrificial.

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The government has apologized for “mistakes” in the immediate aftermath of the disaster.

The earthquake killed 51,000 people in Turkey and neighboring Syria. Thousands more remain undiscovered by unidentified graves in the southeastern Turkish countryside.

On Thursday, Kılıçdaroğlu was further boosted by the late withdrawal of minor candidate Muharrem Ince from the race. Despite his low turnout, some opposition figures feared he would split the anti-Erdogan vote.

Elections are held every five years in Turkey. More than 1.8 million voters living abroad have already cast their ballots on April 17, Turkish newspaper Daily Sabah reported Wednesday, citing the country’s deputy foreign minister. 65 million Turks are eligible to vote.

Supreme Election Council (YSK) chairman Ahmet Yener said last month that at least 1 million voters in earthquake-hit areas are expected not to vote this year amid migration.

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