Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned his supporters on Friday that they would pay a “heavy price” if his secular rival came to power in elections scheduled for this weekend.
Erdogan is trying to rally his supporters ahead of the elections, Sunday, which put to the test his two decades of rule.
Opinion polls show his secular rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, with a slight lead over him, and that he is close to passing the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a second round on May 28.
What contributed to strengthening the positions of the opposition was the withdrawal of candidate Muharrem Ince, who represents a third party, on Thursday, as it could have weakened Kilicdaroglu’s chances of inflicting the first electoral defeat on the Turkish president.
Erdogan, as usual, avoided predicting the result of the most competitive elections in Turkey in modern times, when he answered a question from a journalist on television whether he would win the elections by saying, “The ballot boxes will decide Sunday.”
Erdogan, 69, also acknowledged that he was having difficulty winning over the young voter base who did not remember the corruption and economic chaos that prevailed under Turkey’s secular governments in the 1990s.
“There is a generation in our country that has not experienced any of the problems we have experienced,” he said in another media appearance this week.
“Don’t forget… you may pay a heavy price if we lose,” he said on Friday at a gathering in Istanbul of his supporters waving flags.
And he considered that Western governments use the opposition to impose their vision on Turkish society, adding, “O West, my nation is the one who decides.”
His message appeared to resonate with religious voters such as Sanur Hanak. “Erdogan is our leader, and we are his soldiers,” said the veiled 48-year-old.
But Erdogan’s candid comments indicate a growing realization that he may not be able to play his trump cards.
The Turkish president gradually lost the support of key segments of the people who had gathered around him during the more prosperous decade that followed his rise to power in 2003.
Some opinion polls show that the segment of young people who have not known a president other than Erdogan in their lives supports his main rival.
And the Kurds, who had previously trusted his efforts to end their cultural oppression, now support Kilicdaroglu’s campaign.
And the economic crisis – the worst in Turkey in a quarter of a century and attributed mostly to Erdogan’s unorthodox economic views – has led other groups to lose faith in his government.--
This left the president with little choice but to try to mobilize his hardline nationalist and religious supporters to turn out and vote in large numbers. He appealed to his supporters to “crush the ballot boxes”, accusing the West of funding his rivals in an effort to undermine Turkey’s sovereignty.
“We find it difficult to explain our values to this new generation. Our young people are making comparisons not with the old Turkey, but with countries that have much better conditions than here,” Erdogan said.
In this regard, Hamish Kenner, an analyst at Verisk Maple Croft Consulting, said, “The inflammatory rhetoric is designed to mobilize Erdogan’s base to get out and vote, but also to cast doubt on the official results if things don’t go the president’s way.”
It seems that Kilicdaroglu, 74, is sensing signs of discontent prevailing in Turkish society. The former civil servant has tried to wage a comprehensive campaign that ignores Erdogan’s personal attacks and focuses on a pledge to re-strengthen the economic system and civil liberties.
He has also surrounded himself with economists trusted by Western investors and some of Erdogan’s former allies who could help attract nationalist voters.
The election brings together two leaders with contradictory visions and heightened security concerns.
Kilicdaroglu’s party told AFP that the opposition leader wore a bulletproof vest at two rallies on Friday because there was a real threat to his life.
The candidate delivered an uncharacteristically terse speech during his evening stop in Ankara, where thousands waited for him in the pouring rain.
“Are you ready to bring democracy to this country? To bring peace to this country? I promise you, I am ready too,” he said.
Kilicdaroglu confirms that his immediate goal after the elections will be to launch a process aimed at stripping the position of president of many of the powers that Erdogan concentrated in his hands after the failed coup in 2016.
The bloody coup attempt was a watershed moment in Turkey’s history, to which Erdogan responded with a campaign that led to thousands of military personnel being imprisoned for life and tens of thousands of Turks stripped of their government jobs.
Kilicdaroglu wants to return power to Parliament after Erdogan seized it through a controversial constitutional referendum.
This will require that the opposition win the legislative elections that are held to coincide with the presidential elections on Sunday. However, opinion polls showed that Erdogan’s right-wing alliance is leading the opposition bloc in the legislative elections. But the opposition may win a majority if it gets the support of a new left-wing coalition that represents the Kurdish vote.