Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu face off in a final battle ahead of Sunday’s decisive presidential election runoff One day rallied their supporters.
The two candidates aim to appeal to the roughly 8 million voters who did not vote in the first round.
The first round of voting on May 14 showed Erdogan leading the opposition’s Kemal Kilidaroglu, with Erdogan’s AK Party and its allies securing a parliamentary majority in the initial vote seats.
Erdogan paid tribute to his conservative predecessor on Saturday by visiting the Adnan Menderes mausoleum in Istanbul in a bid to rally his conservative supporters.
Menderes was tried and hanged a year after the military staged a coup in 1960 to return Turkey to a more secular path. Erdogan survived a 2016 coup attempt against his own Islamist-based government.
“The era of coups and juntas is over,” the 69-year-old declared after laying a wreath at his mentor’s tomb.
“I appeal again to you to go to the ballot box. Tomorrow is a special day for all of us.”
Erdogan told his followers in January that he wanted to continue Menderes’ fight for religious rights and nationalist causes in the formally secular but overwhelmingly Muslim republic of 85 million people.
Erdogan beat Kilidaroglu by nearly five percentage points in the first round of voting.
But Erdogan’s failure to cross the 50 percent threshold led to Turkey’s first run-off election on Sunday and underscored his waning support. Erdogan, who has led the country for 20 years, is still seen as the frontrunner. Recent opinion polls show that the two sides are evenly matched.
Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar reported from Ankara that Erdogan’s message had not changed much from the first round of elections.
“He promised to make the next century Turkey’s century. He told voters that he would continue this mega project and strengthen the country’s defense industry. He promised to build a stronger and more confident Turkey on the international stage,” he said.
Kilicdaroglu, who leads an opposition coalition of conservatives, secular parties and nationalists, ended his campaign by speaking at a “family support insurance conference” in the capital Ankara.
Kilicdaroglu focused on more pressing issues as he tried to catch up. In a bid to win over nationalist voters, opposition challengers have pledged to deport Syrian refugees.
“In order to attract nationalist votes, Kilicdaroglu has been focusing on anti-refugee sentiment in the country, promising to send millions of Syrian, Afghan and Pakistani refugees back to their countries. Currently, the opposition is trying to attract nationalists,” Al Jazeera’s said Zelda.
In a late-night TV interview on Friday, Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan’s government of unfairly preventing him from sending mass text messages to voters.
“They are afraid of us,” said the 74-year-old former civil servant.
He repeated the same claim on Saturday.
“I can’t text reporters to announce our campaign plans. Telecoms prevent me from texting reporters. I’m totally blacked out. We can’t even hold elections in Turkey. This man [Erdogan] is a coward, he is a coward,” he said.
Observers said Turkey’s vote was not interfered with on Election Day – but that was unfair given the high likelihood of an early opposition.
“These elections are competitive but still limited,” Michael Georg Link, head of the election observation mission at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said after the first round.
“The criminalization of certain political forces … prevents full political pluralism and impedes the right of individuals to stand for election,” Link said.
Erdogan’s consolidation of power includes a near-total monopoly of the media by the government and its business allies.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) estimates that Erdogan received 60 times as much airtime as Kilicdaroglu on TRT Haber state broadcaster TRT Haber state broadcaster in April.
“They took over all the institutions,” Kilidaroglu said in a television interview.
Many issues pit voters for or against Erdogan: While his first decade in power was marked by strong economic growth and friendly relations with Western powers, his second decade began with corruption scandals and quickly A fast slide into political repression and years of economic turmoil wiped out many early gains.
Another issue taking center stage ahead of the election is the state of the economy, growing concerns about the fate of Turkey’s embattled lira and the stability of its banks.
Erdogan has forced the central bank to follow through on his unconventional theory that lower interest rates would lower inflation, but Turkey’s annual inflation hit 85% last year while the lira entered a brief free fall.
Economists believe that if Erdogan’s government wants to avoid a full-blown crisis after the vote, it needs to change course and raise interest rates sharply or stop supporting the lira.