Polls – and some voters – predict trouble for Erdogan at elections
ISTANBUL - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pulled out all the stops to prevent defeat at double elections for parliament and the presidency this Sunday, amid predictions of an upset that could shake or even end his 15-year grip on the country.
In a last-ditch effort to impress voters, Erdogan had his presidential plane land on the tarmac of a half-finished new airport north of Istanbul late on June 21. The first stage of the airport, designed to become the busiest in the world with a capacity of 150 million passengers a year when it is fully operational in a few years, will be officially opened only in October. But Erdogan made a point of becoming the first passenger to arrive at the airport, a showcase project of his government.
But as Erdogan emerged from the plane onto the tarmac in front of live cameras, his main rival for the presidency, Muharrem Ince, gathered more than a million people at a mass rally in the western port town of Izmir. “I will unite Turkey,” Ince declared.
Most polls published shortly before the vote said Erdogan, who has shaped Turkey more than any other politician since the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, in the 1920s and 1930s, is likely to be forced into a run-off in the presidential election as he will fail to rake in more than 50% of votes, the number needed for a win in the first round. His likely rival in the run-off is Ince, a lawmaker whose vigorous campaign has been the big surprise of the election season.
Erdogan's AKP could lose majority in parliament
In the parliamentary election, held parallel to the presidential poll, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is expected to take a beating and lose its majority in the chamber. In an interview days before the elections, Erdogan admitted that the AKP might take less than 300 of the 600 seats in parliament. He also hinted the AKP could be forced to seek coalition partners in the opposition camp to get bills through parliament.
Such a result would be a setback for the president and his party, who have won every election since 2002 and who had been looking forward to this election day because it marks a shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system in Turkey. Erdogan pushed for the change, which would give him more power, but he could face challenges to his rule from a parliament under opposition control. Polls say Ince’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) will be the biggest opposition group with almost 27% of the vote. Three smaller nationalist, Kurdish and Islamist parties are expected to gather another 24%in total, giving the opposition a majority of seats.
A split government could usher in a new period of uncertainty at a time when Turkey has troops in Syria and in Iraq and is distancing itself from its traditional allies in the West. Media reports say Erdogan could dissolve parliament and order yet another round of news elections if Sunday’s result does not agree with him. A decision to send Turkey to the polls for a second time this year would also mean that Erdogan would have to face a fresh test as president because elections for parliament and president have to be on the same day under the new system.
'We need change'
On the streets of Istanbul, some voters said the country was ready for a fresh wind in politics. “We need change,” said one shopkeeper, who declined to be named. “I am going to vote for Ince.”
In the Istanbul district of Kasimpasa, where Erdogan grew up, support for the president appeared strong and unwavering, but some doubts about the AKP also surfaced. “Erdogan will win in the first round,” said Ismet Atac, 68, who said he knew Erdogan as a young man. “Back than he was a fine lad,” Atac said about the president. “And he hasn’t changed. He is a world leader.”
Around the corner, a man selling melons said he was certain Erdogan would remain in the presidential palace. “But the AKP is going to go,” the man, who gave only his first name, Ejder, added in reference to the ruling party’s majority in parliament. He said rising petrol prices made it more expensive for him to buy melons from southern Turkey and have them sent to Istanbul by truck. Comparing the work of the governing party with his own shop, he said that “customers are only going to come back if the melons I sell them are good. If they are bad, they will stay away.”
Economic problems like high inflation and a dramatic 20%drop of the Turkish lira against the US dollar since the start of the year are the main complaints of voters, pollsters say. Only days before the elections, media reported that prices of potatoes and onions had doubled within a month. Another reason for the AKP’s woes is the performance by Ince, who has gone from a politician not widely known beyond Ankara to something of a political pop star, gathering huge crowds and attacking Erdogan on issues like the economy.
Fatih Altayli, a prominent journalist, reported from Ankara that even the AKP was expecting a poor result for the party. “The government is in panic,” Altayli, writing in the Haberturk newspaper, quoted an unnamed political source in the capital as saying. “They are waiting for a miracle.”