Millions of Turkish voters will go to the polls in presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fights for his political life.
The elections are being held under Turkey’s state of emergency laws which came in following the July 2016 coup attempt.
Since then, the international community has repeatedly expressed concern over media freedom and human rights amid a crackdown on those the Turkish government considers to be hostile.
If Erdogan and his Justice and Development (AK) Party win both the presidency and a majority in parliament, the president will be able to effectively rule by decree, appointing ministers and judges personally and removing the post of prime minister.
However, if the AK Party fails to control parliament then Turkish lawmakers will be able to block some presidential powers.
Running against Erdogan for president is the main opposition candidate, Muharrem Ince of the Kemalist People’s Republican Party (CHP).
Ince — who spoke to Muslim citizens of Greece in May — addressed a colossal campaign rally in Izmir (Smyrna) of an estimated two million people on Thursday. Despite its size, the rally saw only minimal media coverage, with TV stations switching away to focus on Erdogan’s government jet being the first to land at Istanbul’s new airport.
Also running against Erdogan is Meral Aksener of the Iyi (Good) Party. A one-time member of the Grey Wolves-linked Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and Turkish interior minister — the MHP is now in a coalition with Erdogan’s conservatives — she has complained of being airbrushed from pro-government mainstream media coverage.
Of vital importance is the candidacy of Selahattin Demirtas of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP). Accused by Ankara of being linked to the PKK, the party has tried to broaden its appeal from its traditionally Kurdish base. Demirtas has been running his campaign from prison, holding virtual rallies for supporters on the outside and using his scheduled visiting times to address HDP backers.
Turkey’s electoral rules mean a party has to pass a 10 percent threshold nationally to gain access to parliament — this is one of the highest such barriers in the world. Should Demirtas’ HDP again get into parliament, it would deprive Erdogan’s AK Party of the majority it needs to enable him to rule unhindered.
Erdogan can rely on around 40 percent of Turkey’s conservative voters. Many of these people — working-class and pious — recall decades of marginalization by the country’s secular elite as well as a lack of healthcare, educational opportunities, infrastructure and jobs.
Turkey’s economic improvements over that last 15 years have cemented support for Erdogan among this section of Turkish society, although economists fear Turkey’s economy now shows signs of overheating amid a plummeting lira.
Amid claims of pro-government media bias, there have also been recorded attacks on all campaigning parties, although the majority has been against the HDP.
An incident last week in the southeastern town of Suruc showed the heightened atmosphere generated by the elections. The entourage of an AK Party lawmaker became embroiled in a dispute with a shop owner and his family who are HDP supporters. Guns were produced and two men, including the lawmaker’s brother, were killed at the scene. Two more men later died in hospital in contested circumstances.
Greece has not really featured as a campaign issue, although in early June, Erdogan claimed that the country was “bankrupt” and “finished”.
Speaking at a pre-election rally, Erdogan blasted rating agencies that had downgraded Turkey’s sovereign rating. “Greece had gone bankrupt, finished, yet the credit rating agencies have raised the prospects for its economy,” Erdogan complained.
And in an interview last week, the editor of Turkey’s biggest English-language newspaper, Murat Yetkin of the centrist Hurriyet Daily News, said Greece is “not high up the agenda” for Ankara which is embroiled in conflicts in Syria and Iraq.
However, Sunday’s vote — whatever the results — will have implications for Greece which is trying to tread carefully beside a large and unpredictable neighbor.