Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan officially kicked off the toughest election campaign of his career on Friday, with the broadest-ever opposition alliance standing between him and a third decade in power.
Erdogan brought elections forward by more than a month to May 14 from the original date of June 18, despite twin earthquakes devastating much of the country’s southeast last month. He said the decision was aimed at increasing participation by avoiding a clash with university exams, school holidays and the Hajj pilgrimage.
Erdogan, 69, faces a vote that has transformed for some into a forum over his increasingly authoritarian leadership, after shifting Turkey to an executive presidency with sweeping powers in 2018. As his government engages in rebuilding cities leveled by Feb. 6 temblors, Erdogan said delaying elections would risk hampering the reconstruction work.
“Prolonging the election process could lead to political tensions and uncertainties that carry the risk of delaying the efforts to heal the wounds of the earthquake and to make up for the losses,” Erdogan said. “It is essential to leave the election agenda behind us as soon as possible.”
The decision was published in the official gazette after his speech.
No campaign songs will be allowed out of respect for the more than 47,000 people who perished during the earthquakes in Turkey, Erdogan said as he accused his rivals of “political calculations” in the wake of the disaster.
His rivals, who rarely coordinate on strategy, are this time largely united in a six-party bloc that’s chosen main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu as its presidential candidate.
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In local elections in 2019, Kilicdaroglu led his Republican People’s Party to victory against Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party in Turkey’s largest cities. Kilicdaroglu isn’t as popular as Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu or Ankara’s Mansur Yavas, but has extended his appeal by promising to appoint them as vice presidents.
Erdogan has attacked the opposition’s promise to govern through consensus as a recipe for a return to the bickering coalitions that produced decades of instability before he rose to power. Though Erdogan remains Turkey’s most popular politician, his party has lost some support among the poor — typically among its most stalwart backers — amid the nation’s worst cost-of-living crisis in 20 years.
On election day, candidates need more than 50% of votes to win in the first round; otherwise they face a runoff two weeks later.
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(Updates with remarks from Erdogan starting from second paragraph)
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