Campaigning in Turkey’s pivotal elections ends as voting nears

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Turkish politicians have held their final rallies in the last hours of campaigning before Sunday’s pivotal presidential and parliamentary elections that will significantly shape the Nato member’s future.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is facing the toughest challenge ever in his two decades of power, spoke at three neighbourhood rallies in Istanbul, Turkey’s biggest city.

His main challenger is Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the pro-secular, centre-left CHP (the Republican People’s Party), who is the joint candidate of six opposition parties.

He held his final rally in the capital Ankara on Friday in the pouring rain.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during an election campaign rally in Istanbul, Turkey
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during an election campaign rally in Istanbul (Emrah Gurel/AP)

On Friday, Mr Erdogan dismissed speculation that he would not cede power if he lost, calling the question “very ridiculous”.

In an interview with more than a dozen Turkish broadcasters, Mr Erdogan said he came to power through democracy and would act in line with the democratic process.

“If our nation decides to make such a different decision, we will do exactly what’s required by democracy and there’s nothing else to do,” he said.

Mr Erdogan said on Saturday that he viewed the elections as a “celebration of democracy for our country’s future”.

He showcased his government’s defence and infrastructure investments and aired videos trying to undermine his opponent as incapable of leading Turkey, while claiming he was colluding with terror groups.

Mr Erdogan also argued the opposition was pro-LGBTQ and therefore anti-family in a now regular targeting of LGBTQ people in Turkey.

The opposition’s campaign was continued by Istanbul’s popular mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu, who held final rallies in the city to call on people to vote for Mr Kilicdaroglu.

Turkish CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu gestures to supporters during an election campaign rally in Ankara, Turkey
Turkish CHP party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu gestures to supporters during an election campaign rally in Ankara (Ali Unal/AP)

On Friday, Mr Kilicdaroglu asked tens of thousands of people gathered to hear his final speech to vote on Sunday to “change Turkey’s destiny”.

He said he was ready to bring democracy to Turkey, a major criticism of Mr Erdogan, who has cracked down on dissent in recent years and concentrated most powers of the state in his hands.

“We will show the whole world that our beautiful country is one that can bring democracy through democratic means,” he said.

Though Mr Kilicdaroglu and his party have lost all past presidential and parliamentary elections since he took the helm of the party in 2010, opinion polls have showed he has a slight lead over Mr Erdogan.

Voter turnout in Turkey is traditionally strong, showing continued belief in this type of civic participation in a country where freedom of expression and assembly have been suppressed.

If no presidential candidate secures more than 50% of the vote, a run-off election will be held on May 28.

Turkey will also be electing parliamentarians to its 600-seat assembly on Sunday.

Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Board said it decided that votes cast for another presidential candidate, Muharrem Ince, who pulled out of the race this week would be counted as valid and that his withdrawal would not be considered until a potential second round.

Analysts had predicted Ince voters would shift to Mr Kilicdaroglu.

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