Istanbul, Türkiye – The intensity of the campaign shifted markedly in the two weeks between the first and second rounds of voting as Turkey entered uncharted territory in the presidential runoff.
Sunday will be the first time that Turkish voters will have to go to the ballot box a second time to choose their next president – with many appearing to be finding it difficult to revive the first round of voting.
“It’s a strange feeling. I feel like the election is over, but I know there’s another election on Sunday,” Soner Ugurlu, 49, said over tea with friends in Istanbul’s Tophane neighbourhood.
“Of course, I would vote again, but it seems odd because things are so much calmer than they were two weeks ago,” he said.
Adding to the feeling that the second vote was somewhat anticlimactic, many voters see President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the likely winner as he seeks to extend his 20-year reign for another five years.
Erdogan surprised pollsters and commentators on May 14 when he won the first-round match when he was ahead of both of his challengers and approached the over-50 percent threshold.
He now faces the second-placed candidate, opposition leader Kemal Kilidaroglu, who received about 45 percent of the vote at last count, compared with Erdogan’s 49.2 percent. . This is the third time that Turks have directly voted for their president. Erdogan won the 2014 and 2018 polls in the first round.
Most opinion polls predict Kilicdaroglu topping the initial vote, with some even suggesting an outright victory, an expected outcome reflected in the opposition’s assertive message.
Many opposition supporters are now feeling deflated after hopes of removing Erdogan from power were dashed. With Turks struggling with an economic crisis and criticizing his government for being slow to respond to February’s devastating earthquake, Erdogan is seen as vulnerable.
“I’m very hopeful until May 14 because it looks like we’ve finally got rid of him, but now he looks invincible,” said Olkay, who runs a clothing store in Istanbul’s trendy district of Cihangir.
“Everyone is tired of this fight,” said the 34-year-old, who declined to give her last name. “It’s hard to inspire enthusiasm to vote again because it looks like a sure thing, but of course I will because it’s my job.”
Burke Essen, an assistant professor of political science at Istanbul’s Sabanci University, said low opposition morale was to be expected.
“Despite the ongoing economic crisis and the government’s negligence during and after the earthquake, Erdogan still has almost 50% support,” he said.
“For opposition voters, it’s disappointing that Erdogan can still have such huge popularity among voters,” he said. “Opposition leaders and pollsters have also unduly raised the expectations of opposition voters.”
Meanwhile, Erdogan’s supporters are confident that by the time Monday rolls around, their men will have consolidated their grip on the country’s future.
“I think we’re going to see him start another five years on the 1453 anniversary,” said Osman Cakir, a 22-year-old student from Istanbul, referring to Monday’s anniversary of the Ottoman conquest of the city.
The electoral fever has waned somewhat, reflected in the streets.
The political bunting hanging outside the party office hangs listlessly in the sun, twisted and tangled after two weeks of exposure to the elements. Election buses featuring the faces and chants of candidates and playing campaign songs loudly appear to be even more rare.
Party booths remained at transport hubs, but the crowds around them were noticeably smaller than they were two weeks ago. Many of the political parties that ran in the May 14 parliamentary elections and backed the presidential candidate were absent.
In front of the Kadikoy bus and ferry terminals on Istanbul’s Asian coast, only Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party and Kilidaroglu’s CHP have a presence, and one for Kilidaroglu A small tent supporting the Deva Party.
The two remaining candidates have also campaigned more low-key since the first ballot.
Rather than holding massive open-air rallies with tens or hundreds of thousands of supporters waving flags, Erdogan and Kilidaroglu have largely limited themselves to smaller public appearances, while simultaneously The media maintains a program of broadcast interviews and statements.
Erdogan will attend a women’s conference and a small rally in Istanbul on Friday before giving a TV interview in the evening. Two weeks ago, his Friday schedule included three rallies in Istanbul, a youth summit and TV appearances.
Commentators still expect a strong turnout on Sunday, though probably not the 89 percent of the first round. “It’s probably going to be about 84 percent or 85 percent,” Esen said.
As of Tuesday evening, overseas ballots from 73 countries and border crossings were actually counting slightly more than in the first round, with polling stations at the border remaining open until domestic polls close on Sunday.
However, the overseas voter turnout in the first round was only 54%, far below the turnout in Turkey.
On Sunday, voting begins at 8am (05:00GMT) and ends at 5pm (14:00GMT).