Turkey’s two leading presidential candidates last appeared in public during the closing hours of their campaign on the eve of presidential and parliamentary elections that could significantly determine the NATO member’s future.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan held his last election rallies in Istanbul on Saturday before a so-called propaganda ban came into effect. biggest challenge for his 20-year reign.
Polls show that Erdogan is behind the main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. If none of the candidates win more than 50 percent of the vote to secure an outright victory, there will be a runoff on May 28.
Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Erdogan spent the last two days of his campaign in Istanbul. “He met young people and visited different neighborhoods, including the Beyoglu district where he was born, played football and started his political career,” she said.
On Saturday, he chose the Hagia Sophia mosque for evening prayers — and his final election message — Koseoglu said, adding: “This is a symbolic move by President Erdogan.”
Built first as a cathedral in the Christian Byzantine Empire, then converted into a mosque after the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453, and later a museum in 1935 in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state, the iconic landmark was converted into a mosque in 2020, under Erdogan.
Kilicdaroglu at the Atatürk Mausoleum
Kilicdaroglu did not hold a meeting on Saturday, instead paying his respects at the mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, in Ankara. He was accompanied by a crowd of supporters, each carrying a single carnation to place on the grave.
On Friday, he asked tens of thousands of attendees to listen to his latest speech to vote on Sunday to “change the fate of Turkey”.
“We will show the whole world that our beautiful country is a country that can bring democracy through democratic means,” he said.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Ankara, said Kilicdaroglu remained confident and determined: “He says it will be a historic moment for the people of Turkey.”
Ahelbarra said the visit to the mausoleum of Atatürk, also the founder of the Cumhuriyet Halk Party (Republican People’s Party, CHP), on the last day of the campaign was important because “Kilicdaroglu has said throughout the campaign that he fights for the secular identity of Turkey.”
“He wants this election to be the end of an era and the beginning of a new era that, he says, will be more about political personal freedoms and vibrant democracy in the country,” Ahelbarra said.
Voters will also elect a new parliament, likely a tense race between the Cumhur İttifakı (People’s Alliance), made up of Erdogan’s conservative Adalet ve Kalkınma Party (Justice and Development Party, AK Party), the ultra-nationalist Milliyetçi Hareket (Nationalist Movement Party, MHP) and other far-right groups. Millet İttifakı (Nation Alliance) of Kilicdaroglu includes six parties.
Erdogan’s campaign last month focused on his government’s performance in defense industry and infrastructure projects, and his claim that the opposition would reverse such developments.
One of his talking points was that the opposition takes orders from the West and will bow to the wishes of the Western nations if elected. At a rally in Istanbul, Erdogan also recalled comments made by Biden, published by the New York Times in January 2020, when he was campaigning for the White House.
At the time, Biden said Washington should encourage Erdogan’s opponents to defeat him electorally, emphasizing that he should not be overthrown in a coup.
“Biden gave the order to overthrow Erdogan, I know that. All my people know this,” Erdogan said. “If that is the case, the ballots tomorrow will also give an answer to Biden,” he added.
While there are concerns about how Erdogan would react if he loses, the president said in a televised interview on Friday that he would accept the results of the election regardless of the result.
“If our nation decides to make such a different decision, we will do exactly what is required by democracy and there is nothing else to do,” he said.