Turkey: Presidential Polls Close with Slow and Low Turnout

Turkey is expected to have a clear winner in Sunday’s election runoff, which marks a historic first of a vote going to a second, final round to decide the nation’s president.

Earlier in the day incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan cast his vote in Istanbul, while main challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu voted in Ankara. The likely result is expected to be Erdogan securing a third term in office, given his performance in the first round, and crucially given Turkish nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan – who faired better than expected among the opposition – has now endorsed Erdogan for president. By many accounts, low turnout and lack of general enthusiasm for this second round is also a climate that favours incumbent Erdogan.

The May 14 first-round vote saw Erdogan finish with a nearly five-point lead, but barely short of the 50% threshold required to win. On Sunday Erdogan said, “This is a first in Turkish democratic history” while casting his ballot.

“Turkey, with nearly 90% participation in the last round, showed its democratic struggle beautifully and I believe it will do the same again today,” he added.

Through the opening hours of voting, there were accusations of irregularities and issues in various places, which is not unusual in a Turkish national election. Some local reports have claimed attacks on ballot observers, and one report of a deceased person listed as eligible to vote.

Additionally, Istanbul’s chief public prosecutor has announced an investigation into social media accounts spreading ‘disinformation’ just ahead of polls opening. 

While more than 60 million people registered to vote, one regional outlet – Middle East Eye – has observed turnout appears low and slow so far. This favours the incumbent. 

Kilicdaroglu’s team has picked up on this, with the candidate tweeting for those who haven’t voted to “go to the ballot box” and not be “lazy”. He said the country’s future is on the line and is “as close as walking distance”. 

Below is a quick primer and timetable of what to expect Sunday, compiled by Al Jazeera:

  • Incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 69, seeks to extend his 20 years in power by a further five years.
  • He faces 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the main opposition candidate.
  • In the first round on May 14, Erdogan won nearly 50 per cent of the vote, followed by Kilicdaroglu at about 45 per cent.
  • Sinan Ogan, an ultranationalist who was eliminated from the race after coming third in the first round with 5.2 per cent of the vote, has thrown his support behind Erdogan.
  • Sunday is the first time Turkish voters have ever had to go to the ballot box for a second time to pick their next president.

Turkey polls open

  • The polls opened at 8 am (05:00 GMT) and closed at 5 pm (14:00 GMT).
  • Turnout has been strong since the opening of the polls, and observers expect voter participation to be high. Turnout was 89 per cent in the first round.
  • As on May 14, Turkish citizens living abroad cast their ballots before election day. About 1.9 million voted in 73 countries and at border gates.
  • Both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have voted, the former in Istanbul and the latter in Ankara.
  • With just two candidates facing off, it is widely expected that results will be available sooner than the first round – possibly in the evening.

Turkish electoral agenda

  • The voting has so far gone off without any problems, according to electoral officials.
  • In the lead-up to the first round, the campaign was largely centred on the state of the Turkish economy and the response to February’s devastating earthquakes, which killed tens of thousands of people in the south.
  • The campaign shifted notably after the first round with the fate of refugees in Turkey and “terrorism” dominating.
  • Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK Party) along with its allies secured a majority in parliament in the polls held two weeks ago.
  • The AK Party came first in 10 of the 11 provinces struck by the earthquakes despite being criticised for a slow initial response to the disaster.
  • In the run-off, the number of voters has risen by more than 47,500 people who turned 18 over the past two weeks, taking the electorate in Turkey to almost 60.8 million.



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