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    5. Elections in Turkey: Erdogan's rival poses major challenge as polls ..


    Elections in Turkey: Erdogan's rival poses major challenge as polls close

    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan meet with supporters outside a polling station in Uskudar after voting today. Photo: Poole/Getty Images Europe

    For the first time since Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party came to power two decades ago, the opposition has a real chance of ending his one-man rule and keeping Turkey from heading towards authoritarianism.

    As polling stations closed in Turkey, Mr. Erdogan tweeted to his followers: “The voting process has been completed across the country in a manner that is in keeping with our democracy.”

    “Now, as always, the time has come to defend strongly ballot boxes. Until the final results are obtained, we continue to defend the will of our people.”

    Değerli dava ve yol arkadaşlarım…

    Oy verme işlemi ülkemiz genelinde, hamdolsun, demokrasimize yakışır bir şekilde tamamlandı. Şimdi, her zaman oldugu gibi sandıklara sıkı sıkıya sahip çıkma vakti. Sonuçlar kesinleşinceye kadar milletimizin iradesini korumaya devam!..

    — Recep Tayyip Erdogan (@RTErdogan) May 14, 2023

    The latest opinion polls have predicted a knife-edge race, and the most recent polls have shown that Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition candidate, has beaten the incumbent by a narrow margin.< /p

    Polling stations opened early on Sunday morning and polling stations across the country were packed with voters, from Turkey's largest city of Istanbul to the site of the devastating earthquake in February, where authorities set up mobile polling stations.

    “The crowds are definitely large and impressive. It is now 2:00 pm and the 70-meter line is still standing,” Tolga Çetinkaya, an election observer at a polling station in the Asian side of Istanbul, told the Telegraph.

    Many voters were elderly, some in wheelchairs or walkers. One man at the polling station on Sunday was 96 years old, Mr Cetinkay said.

    Opposition 'got close'

    Turkey's leader has built a system of personal power over the past two decades, overseeing an era of spectacular economic growth that has recently been overshadowed by runaway inflation caused by his own unorthodox economic policies.

    “We have never had such a tense election in the last 20 years: () the opposition was very close to defeating Erdogan,” Berk Esen, an assistant professor of political science at Turkey's Sabanci University, told the Telegraph.

    Mr Kilicdaroglu, 74 -year-old career bureaucrat, brought together six major opposition parties that adopted a joint program that promises to restore the rule of law, curtail the president's excessive powers and appoint an independent head of the central bank.

    President Erdogan voted Sunday in Istanbul's predominantly conservative Üsküdar district, where he was greeted by supporters chanting his name.

    Mr. Erdogan told reporters after the vote that he was praying for “a better future for our country, our people and Turkish democracy.

    “We all miss democracy”

    In the capital Ankara, Mr. Kilicdaroglu expressed his confidence as he headed to the polling station.

    “We all miss democracy and united efforts. You will see, from now on, spring will come to this country,” he said, recalling the slogan of the opposition campaign.

    Kemal Kilicdaroglu said: “We all miss democracy and unification. You will see, from this moment spring will come to this country. Photo: AP

    Feeling a growing advantage over Erdogan, the emboldened opposition has come up with a new slogan in recent days: “Let's get this first thing over with.” round!” – and urged voters to support them and avoid a second round, which could give the president more time to regroup and energize his supporters.

    “We are here to vote for democracy, justice and social support”, Özlem Salam Güler, the mother of a five-year-old boy, told the Telegraph outside a polling station in the Asian side of Istanbul on Sunday.

    “I used to vote for the opposition, but I feel we have a chance this time. I hope.” .

    She said some family members had recently changed their political affiliation and would vote for the opposition after seeing Ms Güler struggle to get the necessary cure for her son's rare genetic disease.< /p>Possibility of manipulation

    Several voters , who the Telegraph spoke to on Sunday, said they suspect Erdogan may try to manipulate the election results if he is seen to be losing.

    Sevga Kara, a 59-year-old housewife, decided to stay at home on Sunday evening, as the opposition suggests, instead of rallying or celebrating a possible victory, fearing government violence.

    “We know that Kılıçdaroğlu will win, but anything can be expected from this government,” she said.

    Older voters such as Aziz Sarıyer, 77, who has witnessed several military coups in his life, said they fear Erdoğan might use the military or the police to stay in power.

    “The other side has weapons. We are not doing this,” he said.

    For President Erdogan’s camp, Sunday’s elections could turn into an existential battle.

    “The stakes in these elections are very high, not only for the opposition, but and for Erdogan and the ruling bloc,” Mr. Esen told the Telegraph.

    “If they lose the election, it will lead to the fact that they will lose not only access to political power, but also access to corrupt deals, state resources, and in fact, some of them may even be prosecuted in the future.”< /p>

    Questions about the cost of corruption allegedly unleashed by the Erdogan government were raised after the devastating February earthquake in the southeast of the country, which killed about 50,000 people.

    Many new residential buildings were not adequately protected from earthquakes, and the authorities who approved the projects allegedly turned a blind eye to building violations.

    Global consequences

    The end of Friday's campaign was marred by accusations of foreign interference as Mr. Kilicdarolgu accused unspecified Russian hackers of being involved in deepfake videos distributed by Mr. Erdogan's camp to smear him.

    Sunday's vote could end up global implications as, under Erdogan, this NATO member has become a military heavyweight whose influence extends from countries like Syria to Russia.

    Erdogan's Turkey formally supported Ukraine but refused to join European Union sanctions against Russia.

    In recent months, Turkey has become an important intermediary in trade between Europe and Russia, circumventing sanctions, and helped secure a key deal with Russia that allowed Ukrainian grain to be exported from Black Sea ports.

    < p>The opposition did not appear to have a detailed foreign policy plan, although Mr. Kilicdaroglu indicated that he favored closer ties with NATO and Europe.

    Özlem Temena contributed to this report.

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