Kemal Kilicdaroglu & Tayyip Erdogan
Kemal Kilicdaroglu & Tayyip Erdogan

ISTANBUL: In an attempt to rally his conservative base on the eve of a historic runoff vote, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday pays homage to his executed Islamic predecessor Adnan Menderes.

Erdogan outperformed expectations by defeating secular challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu by almost five percentage points in the first round on May 14, falling fractionally short of an outright victory, setting up Turkiye’s first election runoff on Sunday.

Pro-Kilicdaroglu activists are trying to pierce the air of inevitability surrounding Turkiye’s first runoff, where few believe Erdogan will fail to extend two decades of conservative Islamic-rooted rule to 2028.

On the other hand, Erdogan’s visit to Menderes mausoleum takes him back to the man he cited when he called early polls for May 14 in a bid to ease his way to an unprecedented third decade of rule.

Erdogan visits Menderes mausoleum on eve of presidential vote as pro-Kilicdaroglu activists pin hope on last-ditch effort

Menderes was tried and hanged one year after the military staged a coup in 1960 to put Turkiye on a more secular course, while Erdogan survived a putsch attempt against his government in 2016.

The 69-year-old told his followers in January that he wanted to continue Menderes’s fight for religious rights and nationalist causes in the officially secular but overwhelmingly Muslim republic of 85 million people.

Kilicdaroglu has focused his campaign on more immediate concerns as he tries to come from behind and bring back power to the secular party that ruled Turkiye for most of the 20th century. He used a late-night TV interview on Friday to accuse Erdogan’s government of unfairly blocking his mass text messages to voters.

“They are afraid of us,” the 74-year-old former civil servant said.

While Turkiye’s polls were judged to be free on election day, observers say they were hardly fair. “These were competitive but still limited elections,” the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe election observer mission’s chief Michael Georg Link said after the first round. He said criminalisation of some political forces, including the detention of several opposition politicians, prevented full political pluralism and impeded individuals’ rights to run in the elections.

Erdogan’s first decade in power was distinguished by strong economic growth and warm relations with Western powers that elevated his global status and domestic support. His second began with a corruption scandal and soon descended into a political crackdown and years of economic turmoil that affected many of the early gains.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2023

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