Turkish voters are heading to the polls for the second time in a fortnight on Sunday with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on course to extend his rule into a third decade.
Erdoğan defied expectations in the first round of the presidential contest on May 14, beating Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and coming just short of the majority needed to score an outright victory despite a cost of living crisis that has weighed on his popularity.
In a pair of surveys released this week, the 69-year old president notched up a wide lead against Kılıçdaroğlu, who is representing a six-party opposition coalition.
Sunday’s vote has been billed by both Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu as a referendum on Turkey’s future. Kılıçdaroğlu has vowed to revive the economy by reversing many of Erdoğan’s policies, while also bringing the country back to a parliamentary democracy from the executive presidency system that was put in place after a 2017 referendum.
Erdoğan managed to maintain support from his base of pious, conservative voters across the country’s Anatolian heartland in the first round of the contest by heavily emphasising family values, the battle against terrorism and his successes in giving Turkey a bigger role on the world stage since he became leader in 2003.
The president’s parliamentary bloc, a coalition that includes his Justice and Development party and the Nationalist Movement party, also exceeded expectations, holding on to its majority in the legislative branch.
Kılıçdaroğlu, who initially ran a campaign that promised “spring will come” after two decades with Erdoğan at the helm, has switched to a more forceful, nationalist tone. The 74-year old has, for example, promised to expel millions of immigrants, seeking to harness the frustration of many Turks over the more than 3mn Syrian refugees who have come to the country in recent years.
Still, Kılıçdaroğlu was dealt a blow when Sinan Oğan, the nationalist powerbroker who came in third in the first round of elections, recently threw his support behind Erdoğan, calling on his voters to back the incumbent.
International election observers said the first round of elections were broadly free, but they also noted that the campaigns have been far from fair. Erdoğan leaned heavily on state resources, providing giveaways such as free gas and 10GB of internet for students. He also boosted pay for public sector workers and increased the minimum wage.
The country’s government-affiliated media has provided wall-to-wall coverage of a string of Erdoğan events, including the opening of a Black Sea gas processing facility and the inauguration of a warship.
If Erdoğan does manage to secure a victory, giving him another five-year term as president, the focus is expected to shift rapidly to the country’s $900bn economy.
This week the lira hit a record low, breaching 20 against the US dollar, as investors fretted over Erdoğan’s unconventional economic policies, which have included sharp rate cuts despite acute inflation.
A fall in Turkey’s foreign currency reserves, which has accelerated in recent weeks, has amplified the sense of worry among both international and local analysts.
Erdoğan said this week that the country’s economy, financial system and banks remain “sound”, adding that unidentified Gulf states had provided funding to relieve the pressures.