World

After twenty years of running his country, Recep Tayyip Erdogan was hardly going to change tack now.

Cheered vociferously by thousands of his supporters, the President marked the last day of campaigning by firing tirades at his critics, his opponents and the West.

Erdogan knows that this election, which pitches him against a coalition of opposition parties, is going to be close. His tactic seems clear – to fire up his own supporters to come out in huge numbers.

So he told them that everything he had achieved was now in danger of being stripped away. He warned that a victory for the opposition, led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, would enable terrorists.

And he accused America of orchestrating a shadowy campaign to remove him from office.

“What are you going to do with the instruction you get from America?” he mockingly asked his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

“And what about the instruction you got from Biden? Biden told you: ‘We need to bring down Erdogan.’ I know that. All my people know this. Well, tomorrow the ballot boxes will give an answer to Biden as well.”

More on Recep Tayyip Erdogan

His supporters whooped and cheered, singing his name and reacting enthusiastically as the president, somewhat half-heartedly, waved at them from stage.

This election is remarkably divided, and divisive. After 20 years of ever more intrusive control over the country, nobody in Turkey is indifferent about Erdogan.

Many, including the thousands we have seen gather together at his rallies, adore him. They see the president as a strong, unapologetic champion of his country and its traditions.

Read more:
Meet the man who wants to end the Erdogan era
Why Turkey’s election may well be the most important in the world this year

His opponents are similarly sure, painting Erdogan as a malign presence who has eroded every facet of democracy and ostracised his nation.

There is no middle ground any more. That’s why the country’s opposition parties, ostensibly very different in their political philosophies, have coalesced behind the single banner of wanting to dump Erdogan out of office.

But for his supporters the best solution to all this is clear – another Erdogan victory.

We arrived at a shopping centre in a middle-class area of Istanbul, full of shops that are targeted at conservative women. Modest fashion is the name that is used, and it is big business.

In a café, many of the business owners are gathered together to meet Oezlem Zengin, the most prominent woman in the president’s AK Party. We chat over mugs of tea that are almost as strong as Zengin’s resolve.

“I’ve been working with our party for 21 years and I tell you that we will win the election”, she says.

“Erdogan is misunderstood. He’s not understood at all by the West. Look around you at the changes he has brought – at the women who are here today and how he has helped them develop.

“But I think that the West has got preconceptions about Turkey and about the president. They don’t understand how he keeps winning because they don’t understand him.”

Turkey, she says, “is forging its own path” and “rethinking where we are, what we should do and how we should position ourselves”.

She praises the country’s approach to the war in Ukraine, saying that Erdogan had been a bridge between Russia and Ukraine.

The truth is that, with the hours running down before voting starts, nobody can say with any confidence what is going to happen.

Across this political chasm both sides are expressing confidence, not just in winning the election but in doing so in the first round of voting.

But, of course, they don’t know. Erdogan is a continuity candidate par excellence – a man who created his own party and has reshaped his nation during 20 years at the top.

The opposition is the opposite – a coalition that might work, or might collapse, but which exists largely to be the catalyst for change.

This is an election, but it’s also a referendum on Erdogan, watched by a world desperate to know what will happen next. We don’t know, but there is one safe prediction – whatever the result is, it will be close.

Articles You May Like

Graham Norton quits Virgin Radio weekend show – and tells listeners why live on air
Ford cuts 2023 Mustang Mach-E prices in Canada by up to $13,000
King says ‘wonderful messages and cards’ since cancer diagnosis have ‘reduced me to tears’
Sony to release a ‘Pro’ version of the PlayStation 5 this year after cutting outlook, analysts say
Hacking the hackers: How cyber gang Lockbit was ‘locked out’