Turkey entered the final stages of a bitter presidential campaign on Friday in which Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his secular rival have capitalized on fears about refugees and Kurdish militants.
In Sunday’s final, Erdogan is set to extend his two-decade Islamist rule until 2028.
His victory preserves the reputation of a key NATO member as a troublemaker who plays up the rivalry between Moscow and Washington while pushing his own agenda in the Middle East.
Secular opposition leader Kemal Kilidaroglu presented a clear alternative to Erdogan in the first round on May 14.
The former civil servant has waged an all-out campaign to mend relations with Western allies and solve Turkey’s economic woes, rejected by Erdogan under orthodox orders.
Kilıdaroğlu mobilized Turkey’s hardliners to form a six-party coalition that gained critical support from the Kurds.
It was the type of cooperation that Erdogan excelled at building as he repeatedly won elections.
But in what was widely seen as Erdogan’s toughest election and one of the most successful in Turkey’s post-Ottoman history, Kilıdaroğlu still lost by five points.
– ‘Terrorist Lovers’ –
The 74-year-old opposition leader disappeared for four days and re-emerged a changed man.
In the polarized country, he abandoned his quest for social cohesion and instead turned his attention to evacuating millions of refugees and fighting insurgents.
“As soon as I take power, I will send all the refugees back home,” Kilidaroglu said in his first speech since the election.
Erdogan responded in kind.
He doubled down on his attempts to ally Kilıdaroğlu with outlaw Kurdish militias and derided the opposition for trying to talk tough on security issues.
“Until yesterday, they were friends of terrorists,” Erdogan said of his rivals this week.
“You are a coward who cooperates with terrorists,” Kilidaroglu replied on Twitter.
Some commentators see this campaign as a Turkish waste from recent memory.
“I’ve followed dozens of campaigns since 1979, and I’ve never seen both candidates lie so blatantly,” Khan Dundar, the exiled former editor of the Kumhuriyet newspaper, told the agency from Germany.
– loss inventory –
“This is the first time we have seen such an insulting campaign,” Dundar said.
Most Turkish pre-election polls have underestimated Erdogan’s approval rating in the first round.
They now show him leading by five points or more – a difference that has caused panic in Turkey’s financial markets.
According to indirect reports, Turks are hoarding gold and dollars, hoping that the currency will fall after the election.
Official data shows that Turkey’s central bank burned through $25 billion in one month trying to prop up the lira.
Turkey’s net foreign exchange reserves – an important measure of a country’s financial stability – fell into negative territory for the first time since 2002.
And the lira itself touched the 20 dollar mark for the first time on Friday.
When Erdogan won the last national election in June 2018, the dollar was worth just 4.5 lira.
“The day of reckoning for the Turkish economy and financial markets may now be near,” warns Capital Economics Consultants.
-The war of militants
Kilidaroglu’s alliance with a far-right group this week nearly cost him the support of the pro-Kurdish party, which holds one-tenth of Turkey’s vote.
The Kurdish-backed HDP decided Thursday that a poll would not support the boycott because it would only help prolong Erdogan’s “one-man rule.”
But HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan did not hide her disappointment with Kilidaroglu’s new approach.
“Scoring political points from immigrants or refugees is wrong,” Buldan said.
Erdogan and Kilidaroglu are now focused on the election.
“We cannot allow the sense of being ahead to drag us into complacency.
“We should not have any plans other than voting on Sunday,” he told his supporters. “Go have a picnic later.”
In the first round, the number of participants reached 87 percent.
But support for Kilıdaroğlu was slightly lower in the Kurdish regions.
In the second round, from 1.7 to 1.9 million of the 3.4 million Turks living abroad, data show that they were found.
Many of these voters are descendants of Turks who migrated from poorer states to Western Europe and support more conservative candidates.