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Erdogan Amassed Power in Turkey. He Could Still Lose This Election.

ISTANBUL, Turkey — As President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey approaches the hardest election of his profession on Sunday, he has marshaled most of the assets of the state to tilt the enjoying subject to his benefit.

Mr. Erdogan, who has come to more and more dominate the nation over the previous 20 years, tapped the Treasury for populist spending packages and has raised the minimal wage thrice in the final yr and a half. His challenger barely seems on the state broadcaster whereas Mr. Erdogan’s speeches are aired in full. And this weekend’s vote might be overseen by an election board that, throughout latest votes, have made questionable calls that benefited the president.

And but, Mr. Erdogan might nonetheless lose.

Recent polls present him trailing the primary challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in a good race that would go to a runoff later this month. But Mr. Erdogan’s grip on the nation might additionally contribute to his undoing, if voters drop him due to his strongman methods and persistently high inflation that has left Turks feeling poorer.

“The elections are not fair, but nonetheless they are free, and that is why there is always the prospect of political change in Turkey,” mentioned Sinan Ulgen, director of the Istanbul-based EDAM analysis group. “The prospect exists, and is now palpable.”

Mr. Erdogan has eroded democratic establishments, stocking the judiciary with loyalists and limiting free expression. His principal challenger, Mr. Kilicdaroglu, has vowed to revive democracy if he wins.

The shut race speaks to Turkey’s difficult character. Political scientists say it’s neither a full democracy nor a full-blown autocracy, however quite a mixture of the 2 in which the chief has outsized energy however the place elections can nonetheless result in change.

Turkey has by no means tipped into full-on autocracy as a result of electoral politics retain a hallowed place in the nationwide id, one revered by Mr. Erdogan himself. He and his governing Justice and Development Party have repeatedly trounced their opponents on the poll field through the years with no indications of foul play, granting Mr. Erdogan a mandate.

Turkey’s political ambiguity can also be mirrored in its world place.

During Mr. Erdogan’s tenure, a lot of Turkish overseas coverage has change into personally related to him as he has proved to be a needed, however problematic — and at occasions puzzling — associate of the West. He condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and despatched help to the Ukrainian authorities whereas not solely refusing to affix Western sanctions on Russia, but in addition increasing commerce ties with, and drawing nearer to, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

He has sparred with the United States over Syria coverage and disparages Washington in his speeches. He heads a NATO member state however has hampered the alliance’s growth, delaying Finland’s capability to affix and nonetheless refusing to simply accept Sweden.

All of that, at occasions, has left Western leaders questioning whose aspect he’s actually on.

A change of management in Turkey would resonate all over the world, given the nation’s distinctive place as a predominantly Muslim society with a staunchly secular state and an unlimited community of financial and diplomatic ties spanning Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Mr. Kilicdaroglu has promised that if he wins, he’ll enhance relations with the West and make Turkish overseas coverage much less private. But what precisely that might appear to be is difficult to foretell: He represents a coalition of six political events with broadly divergent ideologies and his document gives few clues. Before getting into politics, he was a civil servant who ran Turkey’s social safety administration.

After Mr. Erdogan rose to the nationwide stage as prime minister in 2003, he was broadly seen as a brand new mannequin of Islamist democrat, one pro-business and in robust ties with the West. During his first decade, Turkey’s financial system boomed, lifting tens of millions into the center class.

But extra lately — after dealing with mass avenue protests in opposition to his governing model, changing into president in 2014 and surviving a failed coup try in 2016 — he purged his foes from the state forms, restricted civil liberties and centralized energy in his arms.

Mr. Erdogan retains a fervent following, notably amongst working class, rural and extra non secular voters, who love his rhetoric about standing up for Turkey in opposition to an array of home and overseas enemies. He has pushed again in opposition to Turkey’s state secularism, increasing Islamic training and altering rules to permit women in authorities jobs to put on head scarves.

The political opposition says that his consolidation of energy has gone too far and portrays Sunday’s vote as a make-it-or-break-it second for Turkish democracy that would encourage different states scuffling with aspiring autocrats.

Mr. Erdogan’s benefits are clear, beginning with the perks residents can obtain by means of hyperlinks to his political occasion, together with state jobs, social help or native companies like new roads, analysts mentioned.

The president’s use of energy for electoral acquire has raised questions on how honest these elections actually are.

“It is more like a hybrid regime, where you have multiparty elections but where the opposition does not enjoy the same opportunities as the government to put their ideas and policies through to voters,” mentioned Ersin Kalaycioglu, a professor of political science at Sabanci University in Istanbul.

Mr. Erdogan has prolonged his sway over the information media. Major information networks are owned by businessmen near Mr. Erdogan whereas retailers that criticize his insurance policies are sometimes hounded with fines and lawsuits.

A latest evaluation of the state-funded broadcaster TRT discovered that in April, Mr. Kilicdaroglu acquired solely 32 minutes of airtime. Mr. Erdogan acquired 32 hours.

“TRT acts like a public relations firm assigned to run the election campaign of the ruling party and its presidential candidate,” Ilhan Tasci, an opposition occasion member on the state broadcasting regulator, mentioned in an announcement when releasing the info.

Overseeing Sunday’s vote is the Supreme Election Council, a panel of judges. For a long time, it was broadly regarded as impartial and reliable, however two latest choices marred its fame in the eyes of opposition supporters.

In 2017, whereas the votes had been being counted in a referendum on altering Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system, the board determined to override the electoral regulation and embrace ballots that lacked an official stamp proving their authenticity. The referendum handed by a slim margin, permitting Mr. Erdogan, the president on the time, to tremendously develop his powers.

In 2019, after an opposition candidate beat Mr. Erdogan’s candidate in the mayor’s race for Istanbul, Turkey’s largest metropolis, the council voided the outcomes, citing irregularities, and known as for a redo. The similar opposition candidate gained that, too, by a good bigger margin.

Those choices raised questions concerning the election board’s willingness to rule in opposition to Mr. Erdogan’s most well-liked final result, mentioned Hasan Sinar, an affiliate professor of prison regulation at Altinbas University in Istanbul.

“On paper, they are neutral,” he mentioned. “But when the government stays in power so long, no one in that position can be neutral anymore.” Any doubt concerning the electoral board’s neutrality was detrimental to Turkey’s democracy, he added. “This is never supposed to be poisoned by doubt,” he mentioned.

In latest weeks, Mr. Erdogan has used his bully pulpit to bludgeon the opposition, warning that the nation would undergo underneath their management and accusing them of conspiring with terrorists. Mr. Erdogan’s inside minister, Suleyman Soylu, who oversees the safety forces, has gone additional, sowing doubts concerning the outcomes earlier than the vote even begins.

The election amounted to “a political coup attempt by the West,” Mr. Soylu mentioned final month throughout a marketing campaign cease. “It is a coup attempt formed by bringing together all of the preparations to purge Turkey.”

Just a few days later, Mr. Soylu mentioned that Mr. Kilicdaroglu’s occasion was “always open to cheating.”

Despite the issues, Turks stay hopeful that Sunday’s ballot will specific the individuals’s will. This week, after Mr. Soylu requested that the election board share detailed information about polling locations and voter registrations so his ministry might arrange its personal system to tabulate the vote, the election board pushed again, saying that solely it was empowered to depend votes.

Others famous Mr. Erdogan’s lengthy dedication to electoral politics, hoping that meant he would settle for his personal loss if it occurred.

“Turkey has a long tradition of multiparty democracy and a very strong attachment to the integrity of the vote,” mentioned Mr. Ulgen, the director of EDAM. If a clear vote is held, it could in all probability be revered, even by Mr. Erdogan, he added.

But hassle might come up if the outcomes are very shut, inflicting the candidates to contest them or query the method.

If the unfold could be very skinny, Mr. Ulgen mentioned, “all options are on the table.”

Gulsin Harman contributed reporting.


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