Turks vote in test for President as recession hits home

Vastavam web: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan heads into local elections Sunday fighting for what he says is Turkey’s survival, with his party risking defeat in the capital amid an economic slowdown. Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) have won every vote since the party first came to power in 2002 but this time, analysts say the party could lose Ankara and even Istanbul.

It is the first municipal poll since Turks approved constitutional reforms in 2017 to create an executive presidency that gave Erdogan wider powers, and follows general elections last year. But Erdogan, whose ability to win continuously in the ballot box is unparalleled in Turkish history, is more vulnerable with the country’s economy in recession, unemployment up and inflation in double digits.

Erdogan, who is aware of his potential weakness and was previously the mayor of Istanbul, has campaigned across Turkey every day though he is not on the ballot. Since Friday, he has held more than a dozen rallies in different Istanbul districts. Voters are to elect scores of mayors, municipal councils and other local officials. Polls open at 0400 GMT in eastern provinces and 0500 GMT elsewhere in the country.

“Citizens are suffering because of the economic problems,” Dervis Dikmen, 60, told AFP at an opposition rally in the southern city of Mersin. But rights activists and even Turkey’s Western allies say that under his leadership the government has steadily eroded democracy, especially after a failed 2016 coup that led to tens of thousands of people being arrested.

The vote will be the first time since 2002 that the AKP is fielding candidates with its alliance partner, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) has refused to field candidates in several cities, saying the elections are unfair. Some of its leaders have been jailed on terror charges, accusations they reject. Critics say that with most media either pro-government or controlled by Erdogan supporters, opposition parties campaigned at a disadvantage because Erdogan’s rallies dominated TV coverage.

“What has happened during the campaign for Sunday’s local elections is unprecedented and demonstrates that — unlike during its first years in power — the AKP is no longer confident of being able to win a fair election. And it is almost certainly right.” The AKP aims to win Istanbul and Ankara, with Erdogan fielding his ex-prime minister and loyalist Binali Yildirim for the country’s biggest city and economic hub.

But in Ankara, Mansur Yavas — candidate for the opposition Republican People’s Party CHP and the nationalist Good Party — might have a stronger chance of winning, according to recent polls. Looking to rally conservative Turks, Erdogan’s message targeted opponents as enemies of the country, tying them to PKK Kurdish militants.

“I am the boss of the economy right now as the president of this country,” Erdogan told a rally on Saturday. “We are in charge of the economy.” He has described the lira’s fluctuations as part of a plot led by the United States to “corner Turkey”.