ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is favored to win re-election in Sunday’s presidential election, despite a host of domestic issues that loom large over his country’s NATO membership and location in Europe and the Middle East for global influence.
The 69-year-old Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years, won the first round of elections on May 14 and retained his parliamentary majority. That was despite widespread inflation and a devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in the south of the country.
His challenger is Kemal Kilidaroglu, the 74-year-old leader of the main opposition Social Democratic Republican People’s Party and the candidate of the six-party coalition, who has vowed to reverse years of democratic defeat. They promote the rights of Syrian refugees and women.
Here’s a look at the key domestic issues shaping the election and where Erdogan and his rivals stand:
Contrary to mainstream economic interest rate theory, by helping to maintain consumer prices, Erdoğan expects high credit rates to lead to inflation. The Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey, under pressure from the president, has repeatedly reduced interest rates to boost growth and exports.
Instead, the value of the Turkish lira took a nosedive, and the devaluation exacerbated the cost of living. Inflation rose 85 percent in October. The official April figure was 44%, although independent groups think the real figure is much higher.
Erdogan has engaged in public spending cuts ahead of the election to offset the effects of inflation and increase the minimum wage and pensions to win back votes.
The opposition coalition has pledged to restore central bank independence and orthodox economic policies if Kilıdaroğlu becomes president.
Erdogan has reportedly asked for the reinstatement of internationally respected former finance minister Mehmet Simsek, a sign that a new government could adopt more orthodox policies if the Turkish leader wins a third term.
On Thursday, Erdogan described Turkey’s economy, banking system and financial system as “healthy”. But he also said that the unnamed Gulf countries had “deposits” in Turkey and would provide temporary “relief”.
Turkey is struggling to recover from the February 7.8 magnitude earthquake, the deadliest earthquake in the country’s modern history. It destroyed or damaged more than 300,000 buildings. Hundreds of thousands of residents are sheltering in temporary shelters such as tents. According to the International Labor Organization, 658,000 people are unemployed.
The World Bank estimates that the earthquake caused $34.2 billion in “direct damage” – an amount equal to Turkey’s 2015 disaster. It is equivalent to 4% of GDP in 2021. According to the International Financial Institution, the costs of recovery and reconstruction can be increased up to two times.
Erdogan’s government has been accused of lax enforcement of building codes as the root cause of the collapse. The government’s earthquake response has also been slow, with some people left homeless or struggling to make ends meet.
Despite the criticism, Erdogan’s coalition won 10 out of 11 provinces in the earthquake-affected areas in the parliamentary elections, showing that the president’s focus on rebuilding during the campaign has paid off. Erdogan has promised to build 319,000 homes this year and has attended several historic ceremonies to try to convince voters that he is the only one who can rebuild lives and businesses.
Kilidaroglu said that instead of the 20-year payment plan proposed by Erdogan’s government, his government would provide free housing to the victims.
Immigrants are no longer welcome
Refugees, particularly those fleeing civil war in neighboring Syria, have been welcomed in Turkey with open arms, but anti-immigration sentiment has grown amid the economic downturn. A lack of housing and shelters in the quake-hit districts has fueled calls for Syrian refugees to return home.
The genial Kilidaroglu has promised to repatriate Syrians within two years, said he wants EU money to build houses, schools, hospitals and roads in Syria and encourages Turkish entrepreneurs to open factories and other businesses there. In order to woo nationalist voters heading into a runoff, Kilıdaroğlu has vowed to round up refugees within a year of being elected. Since then, he has won the support of the anti-immigrant party.
Under mounting public pressure, Erdogan’s government has begun encouraging the voluntary return of thousands of brick houses in Turkish-controlled northern Syria. On Thursday, Erdogan announced in a television interview that Qatar is supporting a separate housing project to help resettle up to one million Syrians.
His government wants reconciliation with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad so that they can return to their country in peace.
Erdogan said on Thursday that there were about 4 million refugees in Turkey, including 3.4 million Syrians, while anti-immigrant groups put the number closer to 13 million.
A more democratic Turkey?
The six-party coalition has announced that it will restore Turkey as a parliamentary democracy and give citizens greater rights and freedoms if their coalition wins the election.
Erdogan It was narrowly approved in a referendum in 2017 and succeeded in getting a presidential system of government in 2018. The new system eliminated the office of the Prime Minister and placed a large amount of power in the hands of the President.
The coalition outlined plans for devolution, including an increased role for parliament and an independent judiciary.
Kilidaroglu has promised to scrap a law that makes insulting the president a criminal offense punishable by prison terms. He vowed to respect the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling on the release of former Kurdish party supporter Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist businessman and human rights activist Osman Kavala.
However, since he does not have a parliamentary majority, Kilidaroglu will face an uphill battle to implement democratic reforms even if he is elected.
Will the election affect women’s and LGBQ+ rights?
To broaden his support among voters, Erdogan expanded his political alliance with two nationalist parties to include a small Islamist party, the radical Kurdish Islamic Party.
New recruits in Erdogan’s camp have Islamist agendas, raising concerns about the future of women’s rights in Turkey. They want to abolish laws against food and domestic violence, arguing that women can leave their husbands and threaten traditional family values.
Erdogan has previously withdrawn Turkey from a European convention aimed at preventing domestic violence – a deal that religious groups say promotes divorce and LGBTQ+ rights. Erdogan and other members of his ruling party pander to their loyal and conservative supporters, calling LGBTQ+ individuals “believers.”
The coalition led by Kilıdaroğlu has pledged to rejoin the European Union and uphold the rights of women and minority communities. Kilidaroglu assured conservative women that they would continue to wear the Islamic-style headscarf, once banned in schools and government offices under Turkey’s secular laws.
What about foreign policy?
Under Erdogan, Turkey has been a sometimes difficult NATO ally, often pursuing its own agenda. He has blocked the alliance’s expansion by developing a close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. However, he emerged as a key mediator between Russia and Ukraine, helping broker a landmark agreement that allowed Ukrainian grain exports and eased the food crisis.
The opposition alliance has signaled that it will pursue a more Western-oriented foreign policy and seek to rebuild relations with the United States, the European Union and NATO allies.
The opposition, led by Kilidaroglu, has said it will work to restore Turkey’s US-led F-35 fighter jet program following the Erdogan government’s purchase of a Russian-made air defense system.
At the same time, the government led by Kilidaroglu is expected to try to balance Turkey’s economic relations with Russia.
A protest victory could end Turkey’s rejection of Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Erdogan’s government has barred Sweden from joining the bloc, pressuring the country to crack down on Kurdish militants and other groups Turkey considers a terrorist threat.