Turkish voters are preparing to make their final decision on the country’s next president on Sunday, determining whether to back the incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan or elect an upstart challenger whose vision for the country could upend its trajectory.
The presidential and parliamentary elections are widely being seen as the most consequential debates in Turkey since the introduction of democracy in the 1920s. These contests will signal whether Erdogan, the country’s leader for the past 15 years who has become increasingly authoritarian in recent years, has succeeded in carving out a new political order in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) country or whether voters are ready for a new approach after long feeling their voices were being ignored.
The leading challenger, Muharrem Ince of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), has promised to end the “one-man rule” of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and restore basic freedoms.
Erdogan, though, has made clear he does not plan to be pushed aside. He has tapped into strong public sentiment among Turks who feel left out of the economy and politically abandoned to strengthen his political power, portray himself as the strong-handed leader the country needs and promises the electorate economic growth.
Whoever wins the presidential race may set the tone for Turkey for the next few decades, with the winner likely to draw the country’s path on a host of social and economic policies, from education to foreign relations, and shape the country’s relationship with Europe.
At stake is a President with greater power than in any other democracy – Erdogan would get to appoint unopposed half the judges on the constitutional court and top public positions – and possibly move the constitution even further away from a framework based on limited presidential power and a strict adherence to democratic norms.