Turkey elections: Turkish presidential candidates Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu present two shocking options.

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Turkish voters must make a crucial decision that will determine the political and economic future of their nation.

The Turkish people are at a critical juncture in history, with a choice between two top presidential candidates, each providing diverse paths for the future of their country.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been in power for more than 20 years, claims that the West is attempting to bring him down while promising a strong, multilateral Turkey and the development of six million jobs.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, his main contender, seeks to move this NATO member state back towards a pro-Western, more democratic posture, and he is supported by a sizable opposition.

While his Islamist-rooted party frames itself as on the side of the family and emphasizes its accomplishments in modernizing Turkey, the president accuses his rivals of being “pro-LGBT.”

A significant moment in Turkish rule

From a sizable palace in Ankara, Mr. Erdogan has ruled Turkey with broad presidential powers since 2017. He has the authority to select and fire government employees as executive president and to declare a state of emergency.

According to Selim Koru, a member of Turkey’s Tepav think tank, not much will change if he wins. He claims that because his existing range of abilities is so great, he won’t try to increase it.

But the candidate who wants to succeed him wants to do away with the presidential system and take on the role of a “impartial” leader who is not affiliated with any political party.

According to Mr. Kilicdaroglu, he will restore independent courts and a free press in Turkey and put the country’s parliament and prime minister back in power. “I will serve Turkey’s 85 million residents. I will treat every one of you with respect, he has pledged.

President Erdogan acquired sweeping executive powers in the aftermath of the botched coup against him in 2016

Each of the other five parties in his alliance, as well as his party’s representatives who are the mayors of Ankara and Istanbul, would have a vice president.

If they don’t have enough control over parliament, they could need to use the presidency’s authority to push through the reforms before they really abolish it.

On May 14, there will be elections for both the presidential and parliamentary offices.

Exploring the Eastern and Western directions

Turkey is a member of Nato, the defensive alliance of the West, but the Erdogan administration has also sought close connections with China and Russia, purchasing a Russian S-400 air defense system and launching Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, built by Russia.

He supports a multilateral approach, referring to Turkey as “an island of peace and security,” and suggesting Ankara as a middleman in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

While preserving connections with Russia, his rival and his backers seek to restart Turkey’s EU accession process and reestablish its military links with the US.

Selim Koru is of the opinion that Mr. Erdogan will continue to distance Turkey from the West while keeping it in NATO if he holds onto power. “He wants to get Turkey to a point where NATO membership is irrelevant in the medium or long term.”

High inflation?

Also facing a crisis at this time is Turkey’s economy. Turkey has experienced a much worse cost of living crisis than most other countries, with official inflation of 43.68%. Numerous people would claim that the true inflation rate feels far greater.

Huge construction projects and rapid economic growth were hallmarks of the early Erdogan years. Turkish loan arrangements with the IMF were always strictly adhered to.

However, his government has departed from conventional economic policies in recent years. By abruptly removing three of the central bank’s governors, according to Koc University economics professor Selva Demiralp, it gradually diminished the central bank’s independence.

While interest rates were kept low and Turkey’s currency, the lira, devalued in order to improve the trade balance and increase exports, inflation skyrocketed.

Image Credit: Barak Kara/Getty Images

Official inflation rates have fallen to 44% but Turks say the real inflation rate in shops and markets feels higher.

Prof. Demiralp thinks Mr. Erdogan’s actions will keep inflation at or above 45% for some time to come despite his continued pledges of strong growth, six million new jobs, and a major push for tourism.

She thinks a return to conventional economic policies and an independent central bank will reduce inflation to 30% by the end of 2023 and it will continue to go down beyond that if Kemal Kilicdaroglu and his allies win the president and control of parliament.

Prof. Demiralp thinks that Turkey might benefit greatly from foreign investment, even if it implies higher interest rates: “At the moment Turkey is rather cheap, and its location, young population, and infrastructure offer mutually beneficial investment opportunities for international investors.”

Worries about the presence of Syrian refugees

3.5 million Syrian refugees who are temporarily protected in Turkey are closely watching this election since the opposition candidate pledges to deport them “within two years at the latest” if she wins.

Syrians, who mostly migrated here during the first six years of the conflict until 2017, are extremely concerned about this.

According to Prof. Murat Erdogan, who regularly conducts a Syrian Barometer, more than 80% of Turks want them to return home, making it the most significant issue for Turks after the economy and the earthquake’s aftermath.

However, since 2011, 880,000 Syrian kids have been born in Turkey, and more than 700,000 Syrians attend Turkish schools. Prof. Erdogan said, “I don’t know how they could leave this life and return to Syria.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu claims he will negotiate the Syrians’ return with Damascus, but as Syria insists that Turkey leave its 30 km (18 mi) buffer zone over the border, there is a chance that Syria will attack the area and cause a new wave of refugees as a result.

Image credit: Celestino Arce/Nurphoto Via Getty Images

The Turkish government claims that over half a million Syrian refugees have been repatriated, but the opposition calls for a larger exodus.

The opposition leader would request that the United Nations oversee any agreement because he is fully aware that it could take up to two years to reach one. However, Murat Erdogan thinks it might take ten years to put into practice.

By offering to expedite the voluntary return of a million Syrians through a deal with President Bashar al-Assad, President Erdogan has attempted to ease the situation. But it seems improbable that Syrians will choose to return.

Kurdish politicians

For Turkey’s Kurds, who make up as much as a quarter of the country’s 85 million inhabitants, there is a lot at stake in this election.

The second-largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish HDP, is supported by up to one in ten voters. They consider the voting to be “the most crucial election in Turkey’s history” and have publicly endorsed Kemal Kilicdaroglu for president.

As their rights increased throughout the first ten years of Erdogan’s tenure, Kurdish voters originally supported the policies of his government. However, things took a turn for the worse in 2015 when negotiations to put an end to the PKK’s decades-long struggle, which Turkey and its Western allies consider a terrorist organization, broke down.

The HDP and militants’ agenda and “blackmail” are alleged by President Erdogan to have forced Mr. Kilicdaroglu to give in. He warned, increasing the stakes even higher by mentioning the terrorists’ northern Iraqi base as “Qandil,” saying, “My nation will not hand this country over to a president who got support from Qandil.”

The candidate from the opposition has publicly courted Turkey’s Kurdish population, which he claims is stigmatized and “treated as terrorists on a daily basis” by a government seeking the nationalist vote.

The government has accused the pro-Kurdish party of acting as a “political wing” for the militants, which the group firmly refutes. In the event that the government tries to prevent its candidates from running, it is standing under a broad Green Left movement.

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