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WORLD NEWS | Turkish voters weigh final decision on next president, prospects for future

Streaks of light seen in California. (Image source: video capture)

ANKARA, May 26 (AP) – Two opposing visions of Turkiye’s future will be on the ballot papers as voters return to the polls Sunday for a second round of presidential elections between an increasingly authoritarian incumbent and A decision is made between challengers who promise to restore democracy.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a populist and polarizing leader who has ruled Turkey for 20 years, came close to winning the first round of voting on May 14 After that, he has a good chance of winning. Even as the country suffers from sky-high inflation and the devastating February earthquake.

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Kemal Kildaroglu, leader of Turkey’s pro-secular main opposition party and a six-party coalition, campaigned on a pledge to dismantle Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies.

The 74-year-old former bureaucrat described the runoff as a referendum on the direction of NATO’s strategically positioned country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, which has a key say in the alliance’s expansion.

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“It’s a struggle for survival. Turkiye is either being dragged into the dark or into the light,” Kilicdaroglu said. “It’s not just an election. It’s become a referendum.”

Seeking to sway nationalist voters ahead of Sunday’s runoff, the usually suave Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo) has reversed and strengthened his stance, vowing to deport millions of refugees if elected And rejected any possibility of peace talks with Kurdish militants.

The Social Democrat has previously said he plans to repatriate Syrians within two years after establishing economic and security conditions conducive to their return.

He has also repeatedly called on the 8 million people who did not vote in the first round to vote in the make-or-break runoff.

Erdogan got 49.5% of the vote in the first round. Kilicdaroglu got 44.9%.

Erdogan, 69, is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader, having served as prime minister since 2003 and president since 2014. If re-elected, he could remain in power until 2028.

Under Erdogan, Turkey has proven to be an indispensable and at times troublesome NATO ally.

It rejected Sweden’s application to join the alliance and bought a Russian missile defense system, prompting the United States to expel Turkiye from the U.S.-led fighter program. Along with the UN, however, Turkiye also brokered a crucial deal that allows Ukraine to ship grain via the Black Sea to parts of the world struggling with hunger.

This week, Erdogan gained the support of nationalist third candidate Sinan Ogun, who won 5.2 percent of the vote. The move is seen as a boost to Erdogan, even though Ögun’s supporters are not a monolithic bloc and his votes are not expected to go entirely to Erdogan.

Erdogan’s nationalist-Islamist coalition also retained control of parliament in legislative elections two weeks ago, further boosting his chances of re-election as many voters likely want to avoid a split government.

The leader of the hardline anti-immigration party that had backed Organ was backing Kilidaroglu on Wednesday after the two men signed a deal promising to deport millions of migrants and refugees within the year.

Kilicdaroglu’s chances of turning the vote in his favor appear slim, but may depend on the opposition’s ability to mobilize first-round voters who did not vote.

“It’s impossible to say the odds are in his favor, but technically he still has a chance,” said Professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Hass University.

If the opposition had been able to reach voters who had previously stayed at home, “it might have been different.”

In Istanbul, Serra Ural, 45, accused Erdogan of mishandling the economy and said she would vote for Kilicdaroglu.

She also voiced concerns about women’s rights after Erdogan expanded his coalition to include Khudapal, a hardline Kurdish Islamist party allegedly associated with a 1990s terrorist group. The group responsible for the series of horrific killings has been linked. The party wants to abolish co-education, advocates the criminalization of adultery and says women should prioritize family over work.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen to women tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, what situation they’re going to be in,” she said. “Honestly, Huda-Par scares us, especially women.”

Mehmet Nergis, 29, said he would vote for Erdogan for the sake of stability.

Erdogan “is the guarantee of a more stable future,” Nergis said, “and everyone around the world has seen how far he has brought Turkiye.”

He shrugged off the country’s economic woes and expressed confidence that Erdogan would improve.

Erdogan’s campaign has focused on rebuilding areas devastated by the earthquake, which flattened cities and killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey. He pledged to build 319,000 homes during the year.

In parliamentary elections, Erdogan’s coalition won 10 of the region’s 11 quake-hit provinces, despite criticism of his government’s slow initial response.

“Yes, there were delays, but the roads were blocked,” said Yasar Sunulu, an Erdogan supporter in Kahramanmaras, the quake’s epicenter. “We can’t complain about the country…it gives us food, bread and whatever else we need.”

He and his family were living in a tent after their house was destroyed.

Nursel Karci, a mother of four who lives in the same camp, said she would also vote for Erdogan.

Erdogan “did everything I couldn’t do,” she said. “He clothed my children but I couldn’t dress them. He was where I couldn’t feed them … I didn’t have a dime in my pocket.”

Erdogan has repeatedly painted Kilicdaroglu as colluding with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) after the opposition leader gained support from the country’s pro-Kurdish party.

During a rally in Istanbul, Erdogan played a fake video he claimed showed a PKK commander singing an opposition campaign song to his hundreds of thousands of supporters. On Monday, Erdogan doubled down on that claim, insisting that the PKK supported Kilicdaroglu regardless of whether the video was “fake or not.”

“Most analysts failed to assess the impact of Erdogan’s campaign against Kilicdaroglu,” Guvenc said. “This clearly resonates with ordinary nationalist-religious voters in Turkey.”

“Today’s politics is about building and sustaining a narrative that masks reality,” he added. “Erdogan and his people have been very successful in building a narrative that masks reality.” (AP)

(This is an unedited and auto-generated story from a Syndicated News feed, the content body may not have been modified or edited by LatestLY staff)

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