Ankara A mother holds her baby in the air just before entering the polling station in an inner-city district of Ankara. She smiles at her toddler and sings: “Bahar gelecek!”. That means “It’s springtime” but has less to do with the sunny weather on May 14 in the Turkish capital. The sentence is one of the slogans of the Turkish opposition.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political future will be decided in today’s presidential and parliamentary elections in Turkey. Sunday’s vote will determine whether he gets another term after 20 years in power or whether Turkey chooses a new course.
Erdogan will run for another five-year term as president. In some polls, the 69-year-old, increasingly authoritarian Erdogan was behind his biggest challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in others the incumbent led. 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu of the centre-left CHP party is the joint candidate of an opposition alliance.
Voter with an oxygen mask and rumors of manipulation
Both voters and election observers report long queues in front of the polls and a generally peaceful atmosphere. “I’ve never had to wait so long,” says a voter who has just left the polling station in downtown Ankara.
On average, turnout in Turkey is well over 80 percent. More than 64 million people are entitled to vote. A 95-year-old woman was carried to the ballot box by five young men, as photos on social media show. Another elderly voter came on a ventilator. Her husband held a large cylinder of oxygen while his wife filled in the ballot from behind the curtain.
About ten days before the elections, every eligible voter in the country received an information sheet in the mail with information about the location of the polling station. There you identify yourself with an official ID card and are then given two slips of paper and an envelope, which you fill out behind a curtain, put in a bag and then throw into a transparent box where it is publicly visible. One representative from each of the five largest parties in parliament is present at every Turkish polling station.
For the presidential election, the paper is small, there are four candidates. The ballot paper for the general election is comparatively huge because more than two dozen parties have been admitted. Social media showed how some ballot envelopes were not completely sealed in the transparent boxes.
There were hardly any reports of voter fraud during the election afternoon. However, opposition politician Oguz Kaan Salici of the CHP accused government supporters of beating up voters at a polling station in south-eastern Sanliurfa. A video then made the rounds of a group of young men filling out numerous ballot papers with one vote for incumbent Erdogan. The authenticity of the video could not be confirmed – whether people can also be filmed during election fraud seems questionable.
Elections are also held today in the earthquake area. On February 6, two tremors of magnitude 7.7 and 7.6 shook an area roughly one-third the size of Germany. More than 50,000 people lost their lives and many of the buildings were destroyed. In many areas, therefore, people vote in containers.
Erdogan goes to prayer, his challenger to the founder of the state
Polling stations close at 5 p.m. local time (4 p.m. German time). Media organizations are not allowed to report on partial results until 8 p.m. German time, there are no forecasts.
Erdogan said voting was going “without any problems,” including in the earthquake-hit region. There will be voted on “with great enthusiasm and love”. After counting the votes, there will hopefully be “a better future for our country, our nation and Turkish democracy,” said Erdogan.
There were concerns that Erdogan would not be able to relinquish power in the event of an election defeat. But he denied that in an interview on Friday. He said he came to power through democracy and will abide by the democratic process.
It was significant how the two main candidates spent the last day before voting. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the CHP party founded by Ataturk, visited the founder’s mausoleum in the capital Ankara on Saturday. Incumbent Erdogan went to pray at the Aya Sofia Mosque in Istanbul – which his decree converted from a museum to a Muslim place of worship just under three years ago.
More: What does an opposition victory mean for the West?