Turkish President Erdogan denounces his opponents for his political demise in Turkey

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ISTANBUL (Reuters) President Tayyip Erdogan has defied forecasts of his political demise in Turkey’s elections, rallying voters with a potent mix of religious conservatism and nationalism that looks set to propel his rule into a third decade.

Though he has yet to clinch victory Erdogan must first beat Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Sunday’s runoff his momentum has only grown since he emerged with a solid lead in the first round on May 14, and analysts fully expect him to win.

Critics say he has increasingly polarised the nation during his 20-year rule, including in this election campaign. But ahead of Sunday’s vote, opponents argued against it, saying it was “obstructing political debate.”

The vote is one of the most important since the founding of the modern Turkish state 100 years ago, as the opposition sees it as their best chance of overthrowing Erdogan and overturning many of his sweeping changes in Turkey. 

But it rather underscores his staying power, misled by opponents who expected him to be hit with a cost-of-living crisis and criticism of the government’s response to the February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people. 

Critics and quake survivors have expressed anger at the government’s slow response to the quake and lax enforcement of building codes, which they claim did not result in loss of life.

But his Islamist roots, the AK Party, became the number one party in 10 of the 11 earthquake-hit provinces and joined forces with allies to win parliamentary majority in the May 14 vote. 

During the campaign, Erdogan took off his gloves to rally conservatives and label his opponents “Pro-LGBT.”

To take advantage of deep-seated nationalism in Turkey, he also used Kurdish support for Kirikdarogur to accuse his rival of complicity in terrorism and ties to the extremist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), but Kirikdarogur called the claim defamation.

Erdogan has repeatedly drawn attention to a manipulated video denouncing the PKK’s ties to Mr. Kirikda Rogul, who led the uprising that killed more than 40,000 people.

“Religion and National Pride”
Nicholas Danforth, a Turkish historian and foreign collaborator at the think tank ELIAMEP, said, “President Erdogan combined religious and national pride to provide voters with an aggressive anti-elitist that worked at both domestic and international levels.

The month leading up to the vote was filled with celebrations of industrial milestones, including the launch of Turkey’s first electric vehicle and the inauguration of the first amphibious assault ship built in Istanbul to carry Turkish-made drones. 

Erdogan also switched on natural gas supplies from Turkey’s first Black Sea reserves, promised free deliveries to homes, and commissioned its first nuclear power plant in a ceremony attended virtually by Putin.

The economy was one of Erdogan’s greatest strengths during the first decade of his rule, when Turkey experienced a sustained boom with roads, hospitals, new schools and improved living standards.

But it became a political issue as the government adopted the unusual policy of lowering interest rates in the face of rising inflation. In the second half of 2021, policies aimed at promoting growth caused the currency to crash, exacerbating inflation. Mayor of Istanbul
Erdoğan grew up in the slums of Istanbul, attended an Islamic vocational school, entered politics as a youth leader of a local political party, and became mayor of Istanbul in 1994. He was sentenced to prison in 1999 for reading a poem in 1997 that compared mosques to barracks, minarets to bayonets, and believers to armies.

He rose to the national stage as leader of the AK party before becoming prime minister in 2003.

After taming an army that has toppled four regimes since 1960, Ankara began talks in 2005 to secure its decades-long wish to join the European Union, but the process was I was miserably stuck later.

Western allies initially saw Erdogan’s Turkey as a vibrant hybrid of Islam and democracy that could serve as a model for Middle Eastern countries struggling to emerge from dictatorship and stagnation.

But his quest for greater power has polarized the Turkish public and alarmed international partners. Fanatics saw it as a just reward for a leader in a country with a strong secular tradition, who made Islam central to national life and defended a devout working class.

Opponents painted this as a plunge into authoritarianism.

After a failed coup attempt in 2016, authorities carried out a massive crackdown, detaining more than 77,000 people pending trials. Human rights groups claim Turkey was at one point the world’s largest prison for journalists.

Erdogan’s government said the purge was justified by threats from Pushists as well as Islamic State and the PKK. Domestically, the sprawling new presidential palace complex on the outskirts of Ankara was a striking sign of its newly acquired power, but abroad Turkey became more assertive, intervening in Syria, Iraq and Libya, It used Turkish-made military drones, often with decisive force.