Sunday, June 24, was a key date in the political career of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the people of the country voted to elect a new president and parliament. The election, in which 56.3 million Turkish at home and around three million residing abroad are eligible to vote, is a significant challenge to Erdogan, one of the strongest heads of state in the current times, and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party which stormed to power more than 15 years ago.
The latest elections will also see Turkey adopting a new executive presidency long eyed by Erdogan, 64, and backed by a small majority in a referendum held in 2017. It is believed that democracy in the country will get further weakened by this.
Voting began at 8 am local time (10.30 IST) and will continue till 5 pm local time (7.30 pm IST).
Erdogan brought polls forward by over a year
Erodgan, who became the president of Turkey in 2014 after dominating the country's political scene for over a decade, brought the elections forward by a year-and-half (it was set to be held in November 2019) claiming that a new mandate will enable him to fight the economic and security issues more effectively.
While Turkish lira has slipped against dollar this year by 20 per cent, Ankara is also fighting Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey besides dealing with problems in neighbouring Iraq and Syria. It has also found itself in the middle of a souring relation with the US over trade tariff and other issues.
The Erdogan regime also survived a bloody coup attempt in July 2016 which eventually couldn't topple him and his government retaliated with a severe crackdown, earning the wrath of the international community.
The current election has six candidates in the fray running for the presidency. If none of them get over 50 per cent of the votes polled on Sunday, there will be a second round of polling on July 8.
Erdogan's biggest challenge could come from the secularist Republican People's Party's candidate Muharrem Ince who has attracted a wide attention during the electioneering and served as a uniting factor for Turkey's long divided opposition.
On Saturday, June 23, Ince, 54, vowed at an election rally attended by several thousands that the opposition would prevent Turkey from sliding into an authoritarian rule under Erdogan.
He also promised to lift the state of emergency in Turkey within 48 hours of coming to power, if elected. The state of emergency, which was imposed in the wake of the coup attempt, was extended for the seventh time in April.
Under the emergency, some personal freedoms are curtailed while the government can bypass the parliament with emergency decrees.