Turks vote for pres­i­dent, par­lia­ment in cru­cial test for Er­do­gan

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

IS­TAN­BUL, (Reuters) - Turks vote for a new pres­i­dent and par­lia­ment to­day in elec­tions that pose the big­gest chal­lenge to Tayyip Er­do­gan and his Is­lamist-rooted AK Party since they swept to power more than a decade and a half ago.

The elec­tions will also usher in a pow­er­ful new ex­ec­u­tive pres­i­dency long sought by Er­do­gan and backed by a small ma­jor­ity of Turks in a 2017 ref­er­en­dum. Crit­ics say it will fur­ther erode democ­racy in the NATO mem­ber state and en­trench one-man rule.

Er­do­gan, the most pop­u­lar but also di­vi­sive leader in mod­ern Turk­ish his­tory, moved the elec­tions for­ward from Novem­ber 2019, ar­gu­ing the new pow­ers would bet­ter en­able him to tackle the na­tion’s mount­ing eco­nomic prob­lems the lira has lost 20 per­cent against the dol­lar this year - and deal with Kur­dish rebels in south­east Turkey and in neigh­bour­ing Iraq and Syria.

But he reck­oned with­out Muhar­rem Ince, the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the sec­u­lar­ist Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party (CHP), whose feisty performance at cam­paign ral­lies has gal­vanised Turkey’s longde­mor­alised and di­vided op­po­si­tion.

Ad­dress­ing a rally in Is­tan­bul on Satur­day at­tended by at least one mil­lion peo­ple, and pos­si­bly many more, Ince promised to re­verse what he and op­po­si­tion par­ties see as Turkey’s swing to­wards au­thor­i­tar­ian rule un­der Er­do­gan.

Turkey has been un­der emer­gency rule - which re­stricts some per­sonal free­doms and al­lows the govern­ment to by­pass par­lia­ment with emer­gency de­crees - for nearly two years fol­low­ing an abortive mil­i­tary coup in July 2016.

Er­do­gan blamed the coup on his for­mer ally, U.S.-based Mus­lim cleric Fethul­lah Gulen, and has waged a sweep­ing crack­down on the preacher’s fol­low­ers in Turkey. The United Na­tions say some 160,000 peo­ple have been de­tained and nearly as many more, in­clud­ing teach­ers, judges and sol­diers, sacked.

Er­do­gan, who de­fends his tough mea­sures as es­sen­tial for na­tional se­cu­rity, told his sup­port­ers at ral­lies on Satur­day that if re-elected he would press ahead with more of the big in­fra­struc­ture projects that have helped turn Turkey into one of the world’s fastest-grow­ing economies dur­ing his time in of­fice.

Vot­ing to­day starts at 8 am (0500 GMT) and ends at 5 pm (1400 GMT). Nearly 60 mil­lion Turks are eligible to vote, out of a to­tal pop­u­la­tion of 81 mil­lion.

Tayyip Er­do­gan

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