Turkey marked the 63rd anniversary of the first military coup in the history of the Turkish republic, and on Sunday more than 60 million Turks will decide who their next president will be.
The incumbent president, Muslim Brotherhood member Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the opposition candidate, the leader of the secular People's Party, Kemal Kilicdaroğlu, will compete against each other in the second round, after the previous round was inconclusive.
Turkish citizens in the streets, photo: AP
President Erdogan tweeted yesterday: "We can no longer resist showing the world through the ballot box the good news: the era of coups, juntas and military secretaries (pre-coups) is over." However, his opponents argue that today's presidential election is crucial for the future of Turkish democracy, which has been completely destroyed under Erdogan's centralized rule and the cult of personality around him.
Turkish citizens vote in the presidential election, Photo: Getty Images
Turkey, which will mark the 100th anniversary of Kemal Atatürk's founding of the republic this year, faces a crossroads. Even if Erdogan's victory, at the end of an election campaign rife with passions, verbal violence, accusations and counter-accusations, seems assured, the opposition has succeeded in challenging his unchallenged rule of the past 21 years. Is Turkish society today more divided and fragmented than ever before?
"Characterized by populism"
Professor Deniz Tansi, a professor of political science at the Institute of Social Studies at Yeditpe University in Istanbul, sees the election campaign ending today as a continuity. "Turkish politics is characterized by populism, authoritarianism and factionalism," he says, "a situation that can be diagnosed since the first multi-party general elections in Turkey in 1946. In every election since then, the unrealistic statement has been made, "This is the last chance for Turkey."
Envelopes in votes in Turkey,
This year's election campaign was difficult and fraught with tension. Erdogan is trying to keep power in his hands, and Kilicdaroglu is challenging him, despite his previous failures to win elections. The parties exchange accusations. There are claims that Russia supports the ruling party or the camp that Erdogan leads, while there are claims that the United States supports the opposition camp. I disagree with these accusations. The parameters are very clear to me: Turkey is a member of NATO and a candidate to join the European Union."
A collection of different parties
The two opposing camps adopted very nationalistic tones, contrary to the character of the two main parties: the Islamists on the one hand against nationalism that contradicts the idea of the entire Islamic nation, and the social democrats are basically against nationalism. What caused this change?
The two rival political blocs are made up of a collection of different parties. It's a kind of "get all the parties around you" together. The ruling Justice and Development Party is not entirely Islamist. The Republican People's Party is ostensibly a social democrat. The refugee issue set the agenda of the elections. Turkish nationalism is now the ideological basis, and in this political context Kurdish separatism in Turkey has failed. The issues of separatism and refugees reinforced Turkish nationalism, which became a decisive issue in the elections."
Will Erdogan remain president of Turkey?, Photo: Reuters
The issue of "terrorism" also played an important role in the election campaign. Erdogan accused the opposition of collaborating with Kurdish terrorism and Islamist groups rival it. The opposition found itself obliged to put the issue of the fight against terrorism on the agenda. Does Turkey really feel threatened or are they imagined fears?
"We have a problem of terrorism from the separatist Kurdish underground PKK and ISIS. The chaos in Iraq and Syria fuels terrorism and also shapes Turkish nationalist attitudes. As a result, the issue of terrorism is constantly on the agenda. A strong economy, a strong democracy, a strong military are the necessary parameters for Turkey's national security."
A fateful and decisive day in Turkey, photo: Getty Images
What will Turkey's foreign policy look like after these elections?
"Despite the ruling party's rigid declarative positions, there is a normalization process with Israel and Egypt. Beyond Turkey's NATO membership, alliance with the United States and EU candidacy, Turkey seeks to strengthen its ties with Russia and China.
"This is the balancing approach of Turkish foreign policy. If the opposition comes to power, this balance will not be changed. Kilicdaroglu uses pro-Western language, but he did not create a new beginning for Turkey's international relations. During the election campaign, foreign policy was on the agenda, mainly in the context of the issue of the national defense industries. To this it should be added that an anti-American attitude is very popular among Turkish public opinion."
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