Presidential election in Turkey: polling stations have opened in a divided country

It’s an important day. A century after the founding of its Republic, a deeply divided Turkey began to surrender at the polls to choose their new president and renew its Parliament, this Sunday. The polling stations opened as planned at 8 a.m. in Istanbul and Ankara (7 a.m. in France), noted AFP journalists, confirmed by Turkish media.

64 million voters, who will also elect their parliament, are registered across this country of 85 million inhabitants, traditionally iduous at the polls with participation rates above 80%.

Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, Erdogan’s main opponent

Polarized between the two main candidates, the Islamo-conservative President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 69, in power for twenty years, and his opponent Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, 74 years oldat the head of a social democratic and secular party CHP, the country must grant one of the two at least 50% of the votes plus one to ensure victory in the first round.

The latest polls suggest a very tight race between these two contenders, with a slight advantage for the leader of the opposition, who presents a united front for the first time. A third candidate, Sinan Ogan, is credited with a few points.

Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, the leader of the CHP of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk – founder of modern Turkey – leads a coalition of six parties sweeping wide, from the nationalist right to the liberal centre-left. He also received the support of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, the third political force in the country. During the campaign, he played the appeat card, promising the restoration of the rule of law and respect for institutions, battered over the past ten years by the autocratic drift of the outgoing president.

According to the polls, his short, calm speeches, contrary to the flights and invectives of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have attracts a majority of the 5.2 million young Turks who will vote for the first time. “My dear fellow citizens, my craziest project is to bring democracy back to this country. This return will arouse the enthusiasm of the whole world”, he said on Saturday evening in a final video message, while the “Reis” closed his campaign by praying in the former Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, converted in 2020 in a mosque.

Estimates from 9 p.m.

In 2018, during the last presidential election, Recep Tayyip Erdogan had won in the first round with more than 52.5% of the votes. A waiver, which would require a second round on May 28, would therefore already constitute a setback for him. The outgoing president has promised to respect the verdict of the ballot boxes, watched by hundreds of thousands of scrutineers from both sides, from which he has always drawn his legitimacy.

This time he comes to a country worn down by an economic crisis, with a currency devalued by half in two years and inflation that exceeded 85% in the fall. The trauma of the February 6 earthquakewhich has seen tens of thousands of buildings collapse, causing at least 50,000 deaths recorded and more than three million displaced people, has cast doubt on the omnipotence of a hyper-president who centralizes all powers.

VIDEO. Turkey earthquake: President Erdogan asks “forgiveness” for delays in relief

It is precisely on the power of the construction sector, whose great achievements he points to that have modernized Turkey, that Erdogan based his success during his first decade in power, first as Prime Minister. But the earthquake brought to light the corruption of entrepreneurs and that of the authorities who issued building permits in defiance of anti-seismic rules.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Kemal Kiliçdaroglu will vote at midday, the first in Istanbul, the second in Ankara. Both will then wait, in the capital, for the proclamation of the results. The polling stations will close at 5 p.m. (4 p.m. in France). The first official estimates are expected four hours later.

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