Istanbul, Türkiye – The two weeks between Turkey’s first and second rounds of voting have seen a marked shift in campaign intensity as the country enters the uncharted territory of a presidential runoff.
Sunday will mark the first time Turkish voters have to go to the polls for a second time to choose their next president, and it seems many are finding it difficult to revive the enthusiasm of the first round.
“It’s a strange feeling. I feel the election is over, but I know there is another one on Sunday,” said Soner Ugurlu, 49, over tea with friends in Istanbul’s Tophane neighborhood.
“Of course I will vote again, but it seems strange because everything is much calmer compared to two weeks ago,” he said.
Many voters view President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the likely winner as he seeks to extend his 20-year rule for another five years, adding to the feeling that the second ballot is something of an anticlimax.
Erdogan stunned pollsters and commentators on May 14 when he bested his two rivals and came close to breaking the 50 percent threshold to win the contest in the first round.
He now faces the second-placed candidate, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who won about 45 percent of the vote to Erdogan’s 49.2 percent, according to the most recent tally. It is only the third time that Turks have voted directly for their president. Erdogan won the 2014 and 2018 polls in the first round.
Most opinion polls had predicted that Kilicdaroglu would come out on top in the initial vote with some even suggesting an outright victory, with confident messages from the opposition reflecting this anticipated result.
Many opposition supporters are now feeling discouraged after their hopes of removing Erdogan from power were dashed. Erdogan was seen as vulnerable as the Turks struggled through an economic crisis and after criticism of his government for a slow initial response to the devastating earthquakes in February.
“I had high hopes before May 14 because it seemed like we would finally get rid of it, but now it seems unbeatable,” said Olcay, who runs a clothing store in Istanbul’s trendy Cihangir district.
“Everyone is tired of this fight,” said the 34-year-old, who declined to give her last name. “It’s hard to get the enthusiasm back to vote again because it seems like a done deal, but of course, I’ll do it because it’s my duty.”
Berk Esen, an assistant professor of political science at Istanbul Sabanci University, said demoralization of the opposition was to be expected.
“Despite the current economic crisis and the government’s negligence during and after the earthquake, Erdogan still got almost 50 percent,” he said.
“It is really disappointing for the opposition voters that Erdogan can still be so popular in the eyes of the voters,” he said. “It is also the case that both opposition leaders and polling agencies had excessively raised the expectations of opposition voters.”
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s supporters are confident their man will cement his grip on the country’s future on Monday.
“I think we will see it start another five years on the anniversary of 1453,” said Osman Cakir, a 22-year-old student from Istanbul, referring to Monday’s anniversary of the city’s Ottoman conquest.
A reduced sense of election fever is reflected in the streets.
Political pennants strung outside party offices hang listlessly in the sun, twisted and tangled after two weeks of exposure to the elements. Polling buses with the faces and slogans of candidates and blaring campaign songs seem a little weirder.
The party’s campaign booths remain at the transportation hubs, but the crowds around them are noticeably thinner than they were a fortnight ago. Many of the parties that contested the May 14 parliamentary elections and backed the presidential candidates are absent.
In front of the Kadikoy bus and ferry terminal on Istanbul’s Asian coast, only Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party have a presence, as well as a small tent for the Deva Party, which supports to Kilicdaroglu.
The campaign of the two remaining candidates has also been more moderate since the first ballot.
Rather than mass outdoor rallies with tens or hundreds of thousands of flag-waving supporters, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have largely confined themselves to smaller public appearances while maintaining a talk show and statements broadcast via social media.
Erdogan was due to attend a women’s meeting and a small rally in Istanbul on Friday before an evening television interview. Two weeks earlier, his schedule on Friday included holding three rallies in Istanbul, hosting a youth summit and making a television appearance.
Commentators still expect a high turnout on Sunday, though probably not the 89 percent hit in the first round. “It will probably hit around 84 or 85 percent,” Esen said.
Overseas ballot vote counts in 73 countries and at border gates actually showed a slight increase from the first round Tuesday night and border polling stations will remain open until the end of the national vote on Sunday. .
However, the turnout abroad in the first round was much lower, at 54 percent, than the turnout inside Turkey.
On Sunday, the polls open at 08:00 (05:00 GMT) and close at 17:00 (14:00 GMT).
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