Polls open for Turkey’s fiercely fought presidential elections

Turkish presidential and parliamentary elections pose a threat to Erdogan's two-decade rule

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and leader of the Republican People’s Party Kemal Kilicdaroglu
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) and leader of the Republican People’s Party Kemal Kilicdaroglu

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s two-decade rule could end on Sunday, as the country opens polls for the presidential and parliamentary elections.

Less than three months after an earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people and displaced more than 5.9 million across southern Turkey and northern Syria, Erdogan is facing an unprecedented challenge from 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

The latest polls have favoured Kilicdaroglu, with Politico predicting a four-point percentage lead against Erdogan.

The leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) wants to stir Turkey back towards a pro-Western and more democratic stance.

A former civil servant, Kilicdaroglu lost several elections since he took charge of the party, but he managed to receive the endorsement of six opposition parties.

He said that he wants to scrap the presidential system and have a prime minister in charge, but also revive independent courts and a free press.

"I will serve all 85 million citizens of Turkey. I will show respect for each of you," Kilicdaroglu promised.

Erdogan on the other hand, is promising a strong, multilateral Turkey and the creation of six million jobs. He accused his opponents of being "pro-LGBT” and the West of trying to bring him down.

He advocates a multilateral stance, viewing Turkey as "an island of peace and security", and offering Ankara as a mediator in the Russian war in Ukraine.

Turkey is part of the West's Nato defensive alliance, but the Erdogan presidency has sought close ties with China and Russia too, buying a Russian S-400 air defence system and inaugurating a Russian-built nuclear plant - Turkey's first - ahead of the election.

Inflation haunts Erdogan

The country has been dealing with staggering inflation, hitting 85% in 2023 but slowing down to 43% in April 2023.

The early Erdogan years saw strong economic growth and enormous construction projects but in recent years but in recent years his government abandoned it’s orthodox economic policy.

It gradually eroded the independence of the central bank, and as inflation soared due to low interest rates, Turkey's currency the lira depreciated to improve the trade balance and boost exports.

The Turkish Lira lost more than 55% of its value against the United States Dollar in the past two years.

Experts believe that a Kilicdaroglu win would mean a return to orthodox economic policies and an independent central bank, that could potentially lower inflation to 30% by the end of 2023.

Syrian refugees could be shown the door

Not everyone is keen to see Erdogan replaced, as the fate of 3.5 million Syrian refugees who have temporary protection in Turkey, would be in jeopardy if Kilicdaroglu won.

He said he would negotiate the Syrians' return within two years’ time, but as Syria insists on Turkey leaving its 30km buffer zone over the border, that runs the risk of Syria launching attacks on the zone and sparking a new wave of refugees.

More than 80% of Turks want the refugees to go home, and after the economy and the aftermath of the earthquake it is the most important issue for Turks, according to public opinion polls.