Spotlight: Turkey's Erdogan faces tough battle in elections as polls predict tight race

Source: Xinhua| 2018-06-20 02:10:27|Editor: yan
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by Burak Akinci

ANKARA, June 19 (Xinhua) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is fighting a tough battle against a unified and reinvigorated opposition in the upcoming elections as several polls predicted a close race.

More than 59 million eligible voters will vote on June 24 for their first leader and lawmakers in a new presidential governing system. Six presidential candidates and 10 political parties are competing in the elections.

Over 3 million Turkish expatriates have already begun voting in 60 countries.

Erdogan, 64, who has been leading Turkey since 2003 as prime minister or president, has never lost an election so far.

However, recent polls suggested that his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) could face a tough challenge in maintaining its majority in parliament, as the alliance of opposition parties are more determined than ever to end the Turkish leader's rule.

According to Turkey's election rules, Erdogan needs to receive votes of over 50 percent to win in the first round of voting in the presidential election. If he fails, a second round of voting will be held.

A majority of surveys have predicted that the election is highly likely to enter the second round, which is set for July 8.

Last week, pollster Gezici expected the elections to be a tight one, saying that Erdogan is unlikely to win the first round in the presidential election.

Gezici's survey showed that Erdogan receive 47.1 percent of public support, and that the AKP's alliance with the nationalist MHP party, the People's Alliance, would fall short of a majority in the 600-seat parliament, with 48.7 percent of votes.

Another survey conducted by polling company Mediar credited Erdogan with 47.9 percent in the presidential poll and estimated he would face main opposition party People's Republican Party (CHP) candidate and closest opponent Muharrem Ince in a runoff.

All surveys point out that the faltering economy is the most pressing concern for voters. The elections come after the national currency plunged against the U.S. dollar with a double-digit inflation and unemployment rate, placing Erdogan in a difficult position.

Erdogan's appeal has always been his ability to improve living standard of the lower middle class, but now, with the lira having lost nearly 20 percent of its value since the start of the year, the working class is facing serious challenges.

Experts, however, argued that despite all the challenges ahead, Erdogan still has a number of loyal and strong supporters.

"We can clearly say that it will be a tight race, but let's not forget that surveys have not been very reliable in the past in Turkey's elections and social media can be deceiving," said political commentator and journalist Serkan Demirtas, confirming that Erdogan has a very loyal and strong voter base in Turkey.

Demirtas argued that with a short amount of time to go until the elections, Erdogan and his party hold a clear if not a decisive winning position.

The opposition parties and candidates are not in a clear position to win, but they could, to some point, decrease the power of AKP and Erdogan, and force the election to enter a runoff or complicate parliamentary relations, he said.

"If this is the case, there will be uncertainty after the polls because no one knows how this system is going to work and now Erdogan is going to use his new powers," Demirtas predicted.

Opposition parties are trying to win a majority in the parliament in case their presidential candidate loses. That would help them balance the power between the legislative and executive branches.

"These elections will not be simple for any of the alliances, but we need this new system in order to get Turkey going in different regional and international circumstances," said an AKP official to Xinhua.

But in case of a new parliament opposed to his presidency, Erdogan stated that he will not allow a "blockage which would prevent the system from working," implying that he would possibly call another legislative election.

But then he would also have to jeopardize his own presidential mandate because under the new constitution, the president cannot dissolve parliament and call a new election without undoing his own presidency.

"The forthcoming elections are gearing up to be an all-out battle between Erdogan, who aims to retain his grip on power, and the opposition, who hope to defeat him after 15 years of political dominance," wrote Marc Pierini, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe.

Pierini, also a former EU ambassador to Turkey, said that "the result (of the elections) will have major consequences on Turkey's international role and its relations with the United States and Europe in particular."