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Turkey’s bitter election battle nears decision day

Turkey entered the home stretch of a bitter presidential campaign on Friday that has seen Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his secular rival exploit fears over Kurdish migrants and militants.

Erdogan appears on track 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 who plays on rivalries between Moscow and Washington while pushing his own path in the Middle East.

Secular opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu presented a clear alternative to Erdogan in the first round on May 14.

The former official led an inclusive campaign that pledged to mend ties with Western allies and solve Turkey’s economic problems with orthodox prescriptions rejected by Erdogan.

Kilicdaroglu created a six-party alliance that brought together some of Turkey’s most irreconcilable forces and received crucial support from the Kurds.

It was the type of coalition that Erdogan was good at building while repeatedly winning at the polls.

But Kilicdaroglu still lost nearly five points in what was widely considered Erdogan’s toughest election – and the most important in Turkey’s post-Ottoman history.

– ‘Lover of terrorism’ –

The 74-year-old opposition leader disappeared for four days and then reappeared as a transformed man.

He abandoned his calls for social cohesion in the highly polarized country and instead focused on deporting millions of migrants and tackling militants.

“As soon as I come to power, I will send all refugees home,” Kilicdaroglu said in his first post-election speech.

Erdogan responded along the same lines.

He doubled down on his attempts to make Kilicdaroglu an ally of outlaw Kurdish militants and mocked opposition attempts to talk tough on security issues.

“Until yesterday they were terrorist lovers,” Erdogan said of his rivals this week.

“You are the coward who cooperates with the terrorists,” Kilicdaroglu retorted on Twitter.

Some analysts regard this campaign as Turkey’s dirtiest in recent memory.

“I’ve followed dozens of campaigns since 1979, and I’ve never seen the two candidates lie so clearly,” Can Dunar, an exiled former editor of the Cumhuriyet newspaper, told AFP. Germany.

– Evanescent reserves –

“This is the first time we have witnessed such a campaign full of insults.”

Most pre-election polls in Turkey underestimated the level of support for Erdogan in the first round.

They now show him leading by five points or more – a margin that has instilled a sense of panic in Turkish financial markets.

Circumstantial evidence shows that Turks are dumping their liras and stocking up on gold and dollars in anticipation of a currency crash after the election.

Official data shows Turkey’s central bank burning $25 billion in a month while trying to prop up the lira.

Turkey’s net foreign currency reserves – an important measure of a country’s financial stability – fell into negative territory for the first time since 2002.

Capital Economics predicted that Erdogan would only give in and adopt more conventional economic policies “if Turkey suffers from a severe crisis and banking strains”.

“Our base-case scenario is that Turkey manages (just) to avoid such a crisis, but the risks seem skewed towards a worse outcome,” the London-based consultancy said.

– Participation battle –

Kilicdaroglu’s decision to ally himself with a far-right fringe group this week nearly cost him the support of a pro-Kurdish party that accounts for a tenth of the vote in Turkey.

The Kurdish-backed HDP decided on Thursday not to back a ballot boycott because it would only prolong Erdogan’s “one-man rule”.

But HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan made no secret of his frustrations with Kilicdaroglu’s new approach.

“It’s wrong to score political points on immigrants or refugees,” Buldan said.

Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu are now focusing on participation.

“Our adversary is not Kilicdaroglu, but (voter) complacency,” Erdogan said in a TV interview on Thursday.

The turnout in the first round reached a whopping 87%.

But it was slightly lower in the Kurdish regions that supported Kilicdaroglu.

The data showed that turnout among the 3.4 million Turks living abroad rose slightly in the second round, from 1.7 million to 1.9 million.

Many of those voters are descendants of Turks who left poorer provinces for Western Europe and who traditionally support more conservative candidates.



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