Turkey election: What five more years of Erdogan would mean

Turkey election: What five more years of Erdogan would mean

By Orla GuerinBBC News, Istanbul

1 hour ago

Image copyright BBC/Ozgur Arslan

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Supporters of President Erdogan say he has improved their daily lives

After two decades in power and more than a dozen elections, Turkey’s authoritarian leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan knows how to work a room. At a taxi drivers’ convention in Istanbul, they couldn’t get enough of him.

He controlled the crowd like the conductor of an orchestra. They cheered and clapped – and saluted the opposition – on cue. The venue was a waterfront convention center in Istanbul, built during his time as mayor of the city.

The rally climaxed as the president delivered his parting shot: “One Nation, One Flag, One Fatherland, One State.” At the time, many older drivers were standing, punching the air or raising one arm in a salute.

Ayse Ozdogan, a woman dressed conservatively in a headscarf, had arrived early with her taxi driver husband to listen to her leader’s every word. A crutch rested on the seat next to her. She struggles to walk but can’t stay away.

“Erdogan is everything to me,” she said with a broad smile. “We couldn’t go to hospitals before, but now we can move easily. We have transport. We have everything. He has improved roads. He has built mosques. He has developed the country with fast trains and underground lines.”

Image copyright BBC/Ozgur Arslan

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High food prices have hit people in Turkey

The president’s nationalist message appealed to many in the crowd, including Kadir Kavlioglu, 58, who has driven a minibus for 40 years. “Since we love our homeland and our nation, we are steadily going after the president.”

“We are with him every step of the way,” he said, “whether the price of potatoes and onions goes up or down. My dear President is our hope.”

When Turks went to the polls earlier this month, they weren’t voting with their wallets. Food prices are going up a lot. Inflation is at a punitive 43%.

However, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who controls the economy and many other things here – came out ahead with 49.5% of the vote. This confused analysts and taught a lesson here – beware of opinion polls.

A place apart

His rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the secular opposition leader, got 44.9%. So the electorate in this polarized country was divided – the two sides bitterly opposed, but only 4% apart.

An ultra-nationalist candidate, Sinan Ogan, took a surprise 5.2%, pushing the race into a second round this Sunday. Now he has supported President Erdogan.

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President Erdogan is the favorite to win the second round of the elections

Why have most voters stuck with him despite the economic crisis and the government’s slow response to the twin catastrophic earthquakes in February that killed at least 50,000 people?

“I think he is [ultimate] Teflon politician,” says Professor Soli Ozel, who lectures in international relations at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University. “He also has the common touch. You can’t deny it. He exudes power. This is something that Kilicdaroglu does not do.”

Mr. Kilicdaroglu, who is backed by a six-party opposition alliance, once offered hope and promised freedom and democracy.

But after his disappointment in the first round, he made a sharp right turn. Now there are fewer caring grandfathers and more hard-line nationalists. “It’s a race to the finish,” according to a Turkish journalist.

“I am announcing here that I will send all the refugees home after I am elected President,” Mr. Kilicdaroglu said at a recent election rally.

This includes more than three million Syrians who fled the war at home. It’s a message that goes down well in Turkey.

Whoever is the next president of Turkey, nationalism is already the winner here. Voters have elected the most nationalist and conservative parliament ever, in which Mr Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (Justice and Development) coalition has maintained control.

Image copyright Ozgur Arslan

For some new voters, it feels like the head has already been thrown here. Sitting on a red sofa under a rainbow flag, Zeynep, 21, and Mert, 23, serve hot Turkish tea and worry about the future.

Both study psychology at the University of Bogazici, a respected seat of learning with a history of now-repressed student protests. Their friendship began at the university’s LGBTQ+ club, which has since closed. Gay pride parades have been banned since 2015.

During the election campaign, the president targeted the community. “No LGBT comes out of this nation,” he told a packed rally in the city of Izmir. “We don’t tarnish our family fabric. Stand straight as a man, our families are like that.”

The community is now in growing danger, according to Mert, who has dark hair and shoulder-length earrings.

“Erdogan himself, in every speech, in every event he holds, has started portraying us as targets,” he said. “Day by day the state is making us an enemy”.

The new Turkish century

“What the government says has an impact on people. You see it reflected in the people closest to you, even in your own family. If this continues, then what? We end up living always on alert, always tense, always in fear.” he said.

Zeynep – who has dark eyes and expressive hands – still hopes for a new era, but knows it may not come. “I’m 21 years old and they’ve been here for 20 years,” she said.

“I want change and if I don’t see it I’ll be sad and scared. They’re going to attack us more, they’re going to take away more of our rights. They’re going to ban a lot of things, I think. But we’re still going to something, we will still fight”.

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Results of the first round of presidential elections in Turkey

On Sunday, voters will head to the polls for the first presidential runoff in their history with their country at a turning point.

It has been almost 100 years since Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as a secular republic.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is promising a “new Turkish century” if he is re-elected.

His supporters say he will deliver more development and a stronger Turkey. His critics say it will be less Ataturk, more Islamization and a darker future.

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