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Erdogan ahead after sharp campaigns

People pass by an election campaign poster for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on May 25, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey. The country is holding its first presidential election after no candidate received more than 50% of the vote in the May 14 election.

Chris McGrath | Getty Images News | Getty Images

Millions of Turks are casting their ballots on Sunday for the second time in two weeks to decide the outcome of the closest presidential race in Turkey’s history.

Powerful President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 69, faced off against opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in what many described as the most serious fight of Erdogan’s political career and a potential death blow to his 20-year reign. But the early round of voting – which saw an overwhelming 86.2% turnout – proved disappointing for the opposition, with 74-year-old Kilikdaroglu trailing by around 5 percentage points.

Nevertheless, no candidate crossed the 50% threshold needed to win; And with Erdogan on 49.5% and Kilikdaroglu on 44.7%, a runoff election was scheduled for two weeks after the first poll on 14 May. The winner will preside over a divided country in flux, with life-threatening crises, complex security issues, and – as the second largest force in NATO and a key mediator between Ukraine and Russia – a key role in global geopolitics.

The country’s analysts are fully confident of Erdogan’s victory.

“We expect Turkish President Erdogan to extend his rule into his third decade in the run-off election on May 28, with our decision-based forecast giving him an 87% chance of victory,” said Hamish Kinnear, of risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, senior MENA analyst, wrote in a research note.

In the span of two short weeks, some of the candidates’ campaign messages have changed dramatically, and both contenders have escalated the barrage of malicious accusations, fanatical nationalism and scapegoating.

‘Send all refugees home’

Kilicdaroglu, known for his more sociable, soft-spoken demeanor, made a surprising tilt toward xenophobia and fear-mongering as part of his runaway campaign strategy, tapping into widespread Turkish resentment toward the country’s more than 4 million refugees. .

He promised to “send all refugees home” if elected, and accused Erdogan of flooding the country with them. He also claimed that Turkish cities would be at the mercy of criminal gangs and refugee mafia if Erdogan remained in power. Most of the refugees in Türkiye are from neighboring war-torn Syria.

Kemal Kilikdaroglu, 74, leader of the centre-left, pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, holds a press conference in Ankara on May 15, 2023.

Bulent Kilic | AFP | Getty Images

Previously, Erdogan’s top rivals were running on a platform of economic stability, reclaiming democratic values ​​and better relations with Europe and NATO.

Kilicdaroglu’s new strategy appears to be in response to the fact that a third-party hardline nationalist candidate, Sinan Ogan, won just over 5% of the vote on 14 May, essentially making him kingmaker. Whoever Ogan supported would potentially gain a decisive chunk of his voters – and Ogan ultimately supported Erdogan, despite Kilikdaroglu’s nationalist and anti-refugee rhetoric.

Kinnear said, “Kilicdaroglu has taken a hard line on immigration and security before the race … It is not likely to be enough.”

Meanwhile, Erdogan’s supporters circulated several fake posters and videos aimed at making Kilicdaroglu’s party the CHP appear to support Kurdish militant groups that Ankara classifies as terrorists.

German news outlet DW Citing Turkish fact-checking organization reported that the posters were fake.

And in a televised interview on Tuesday, Erdogan agreed to screen the doctored footage The latter misrepresented Kilicdaroglu’s meeting with Kurdish militants during one of his campaign rallies.

In a surprise twist, a far-right, anti-migrant party called the Victory Party threw its support behind Kilikdaroglu on Wednesday because of his pledge to return refugees to Syria – dividing right-wing groups between the two presidential contenders. .

“We now have two anti-refugee political leaders supporting rival candidates,” Ragip Soylu, Turkey’s bureau chief at the Middle East Eye, said in a Twitter post.

economy, earthquake

Local residents carry bodybags as they wait to pull their relatives out from the rubble of collapsed buildings in Hatay, after a 7.8-magnitude earthquake struck the country’s southeast, February 14, 2023.

Bulent Kilic | AFP | Getty Images

But Erdogan appears largely politically insulated; He still won the most votes in Turkey’s earthquake-hit eastern provinces, which are Islamically conservative. Additionally, his powerful AK party won a majority in Turkey’s parliament, meaning his opponent would have little power as president.

Kinnear said, “Erdogan wasted no time in appealing to voters for their support in order to avoid a volatile split between parliament and the president.” Meanwhile, Kilicdaroglu has appealed to the eight million Gen Z and Kurdish voters who did not vote in the first round to come out and support him.

Already, however, his anti-refugee rhetoric has angered many of his supporters and prompted resignations from some of his campaign aides.

With the incumbent’s victory looking ever more secure, analysts are not holding their breath for a return to economic normality. Already Turkey’s central bank is aggressively implementing new rules to prevent local lira purchases of foreign currency in an effort to prevent further decline in the lira. The currency fell to its lowest level against the dollar in six months after the first round of voting, when Erdogan’s lead became clear.

Can Gulf Money Save Türkiye's Economy?

“Investors shouldn’t expect fundamental changes in Turkey’s unorthodox approach to economic policymaking any time soon,” Kinnear wrote. Erdogan believes that low interest rates lead to lower inflation, which affects monetary policy. Yes, will keep scaring the markets.”

Amid speculation over the lira’s direction after the vote, Timothy Ashe, emerging markets strategist at Bluebay Asset Management, said the only question now is “how much the lira weakens and how, without the ability to use higher interest rates”. , the CBRT (Turkish Central Bank) could again stop the devaluation-inflation spiral.”

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