Voters in Turkey head to the polls on Sunday for crucial parliamentary and presidential elections that are expected to be hotly contested and could be the biggest challenge facing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in his two decades in power.
The vote will either give the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan a new five-year term or set the NATO member country on what his main opponent calls a more democratic path.
For the first time in his 20 years in office, opinion polls indicate populist Erdogan, 69, entering a race behind an opponent. Opinion polls have given a slight lead to Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the 74-year-old leader of the center-left, prosecular Republican People’s Party (CHP) and joint candidate of a united opposition alliance. If no candidate gets more than 50% of the vote, the presidential race will go to a runoff on May 28.
More than 64 million people, including 3.4 million overseas voters, are eligible to vote in the elections, which will take place the year Turkey marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of its republic.
Voter turnout in Turkey is traditionally strong, showing that this type of civic participation is still believed in a country where freedom of expression and assembly have been suppressed.
The elections come as the country is rocked by economic turmoil that critics attribute to government mishandling of the economy and a sharp cost-of-living crisis.
The country is also recovering from the effects of a powerful earthquake that devastated 11 southern provinces, killing more than 50,000 in unsafe buildings. Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its delayed and stunted response to the disaster, as well as lax enforcement of building codes that exacerbated misery.
Internationally, the elections are being closely watched as a test of the ability of a united opposition to overthrow a leader who has concentrated almost all state power in his hands.
Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul.