ISTANBUL: Turkiye reached the final stretch on Friday of a bitter presidential campaign that has seen Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his secular rival exploit fears about migrants and Kurdish militants.
Erdogan appears on course to extend two decades of his Islamic style of rule until 2028 in Sunday´s runoff. His victory would preserve the key Nato member´s reputation as a problem child that plays off rivalries between Moscow and Washington while pushing its own course in the Middle East.
Secular opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu presented a clear alternative to Erdogan in the first round on May 14. The former civil servant ran an inclusive campaign that pledged to mend ties with Western allies and cure Turkiye´s economic problems with orthodox prescriptions rejected by Erdogan.
Kilicdaroglu created a six-party alliance that grouped some of Turkiye´s most irreconcilable forces and received the crucial support of Kurds. It was the type of coalition that Erdogan excelled at building while repeatedly winning at the polls.
But Kilicdaroglu still lost by nearly five points in what was widely seen as Erdogan´s toughest election -- and the most consequential in Turkiye´s post-Ottoman history. The 74-year-old opposition leader vanished from view for four days and then reappeared as a transformed man.
He dropped his appeals for social cohesion in the sharply polarised country and instead turned his focus on expelling millions of migrants and fighting militants. “As soon as I come to power, I will send all the refugees home,” Kilicdaroglu said in his first post-election address.
Erdogan responded along the same lines. He doubled down on his attempts to cast Kilicdaroglu as an ally of outlawed Kurdish militants and scoffed at the opposition´s attempts to talk tough on security issues.
“Until yesterday, they were terrorist lovers,” Erdogan said of his rivals this week. “You´re the coward who cooperates with terrorists,” Kilicdaroglu retorted on Twitter. Some analysts view this campaign as Turkiye´s dirtiest in recent memory.
“I have followed dozens of campaigns since 1979, and I have never seen both candidates clearly lying to this extent,” the Cumhuriyet newspaper´s exiled former editor Can Dundar told AFP from Germany.
“This is the first time we are seeing such an insult-filled campaign,” Dundar said. Most of Turkiye´s pre-election polls underestimated Erdogan´s level of support in the first round. They now show him leading by five points or more -- a margin that has instilled a sense of panic on Turkiye´s financial markets. Indirect evidence shows Turks dumping their liras and stocking up on gold and dollars in anticipation of a currency crash after the election.