Turkey votes in pivotal elections that could end Erdogan’s 20-year rule
Turks voted on Sunday in one of the most important elections in modern Turkey’s 100-year history, which could either unseat President Tayyip Erdogan and halt his government’s increasingly authoritarian path or usher in a third decade of his rule.
The vote will decide not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member country of 85 million, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amid a deep cost of living crisis, and the shape of its foreign policy, which has taken unpredictable turns, Reuters reported.
Opinion polls give Erdogan’s main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who heads an alliance of six opposition parties, a slight lead, but if either of them fail to get more than 50% of the vote there will be a runoff election on May 28.
Voters will also elect a new parliament, likely a tight race between the People’s Alliance comprising Erdogan’s conservative Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) and the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance formed of six opposition parties, including his secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), established by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Polls opened at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will close at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT). Under Turkish law, the reporting of any results is banned until 9 p.m. By late on Sunday there could be a good indication of whether there will be a runoff vote for the presidency.
In Diyarbakir, a city in the mainly Kurdish southeast which was hit by a devastating earthquake in February, some said they had voted for the opposition and others for Erdogan.
“A change is needed for the country,” said Nuri Can, 26, who cited Turkey’s economic crisis as the reason for voting for Kilicdaroglu. “After the election there will be an economic crisis at the door again, so I wanted change.”
But Hayati Arslan, 51, said he had voted for Erdogan and his AK Party.
“The country’s economic situation is not good but I still believe that Erdogan will fix this situation. Turkey’s prestige abroad has reached a very good point with Erdogan and I want this to continue,” he said.
Queues formed at polling stations in the city, with some 9,000 police officers on duty across the province.
Many in the provinces affected by the earthquake, which killed more than 50,000 people, have expressed anger over the slow initial government response but there is little evidence that the issue has changed how people will vote.
Kurdish voters, who account for 15-20% of the electorate, will play a pivotal role, with the Nation Alliance unlikely to attain a parliamentary majority by itself.
The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) is not part of the main opposition alliance but fiercely opposes Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years.
The HDP has declared its support for Kilicdaroglu in the presidential race. It is entering the parliamentary elections under the emblem of the small Green Left Party due to a court case filed by a top prosecutor seeking to ban the HDP over links to Kurdish militants, which the party denies.
If Turks do oust Erdogan it will be largely because they saw their prosperity, equality and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation that topped 85% in Oct. 2022 and a collapse in the lira currency.
Kilicdaroglu, a 74-year-old former civil servant, promises that if he wins he will return to orthodox economic policies from Erdogan’s heavy management.
Kilicdaroglu also says he would seek to return the country to the parliamentary system of governance, from Erdogan’s executive presidential system passed in a referendum in 2017. He has also promised to restore the independence of a judiciary that critics say Erdogan has used to crack down on dissent.
In his time in power, Erdogan has taken tight control of most of Turkey’s institutions and sidelined liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2022, said Erdogan’s government has set back Turkey’s human rights record by decades.
If he wins, Kilicdaroglu faces challenges keeping united an opposition alliance that includes nationalists, Islamists, secularists and liberals.
The final days of the campaign were marked by accusations of foreign meddling.
Kilicdaroglu said his party had concrete evidence of Russia’s responsibility for the release of “deep fake” online content, which Moscow denied. Erdogan accused the opposition of working with U.S. President Joe Biden to topple him. A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Washington does not take sides in elections.
Philippines, US, Japan to hold first-ever joint coast guard exercise
The coast guard of the United States, Japan and the Philippines will hold a trilateral maritime exercise in the South China Sea this week, the first such maneuvers between them as a time of growing concern about China’s moves in the region.
The June 1 to 7 exercise in waters off Bataan province was an initiative of the United States and Japan, while Australia would join as an observer, said Philippine coast guard spokesman Armand Balilo on Monday.
Four Philippine vessels and one each from the United States and Japan will participate in exercises designed to improve search and rescue collaboration and law enforcement, Balilo said.
The Philippines was approached by Japan and the United States about holding joint maritime exercises in February, the same month when Manila accused China of aggressive activities in the South China Sea, vast stretches of which Beijing claims as its territory, Reuters reported.
“This is a usual routine activity among coast guard agencies,” Balilo told a press conference.
“There is nothing wrong with holding exercises with your counterparts.”
Japan, Australia and the United States have frequently condemned China’s militarisation in the South China Sea and have sought to engage closer with U.S. ally the Philippines since Ferdinand Marcos Jr took over as president last year from pro-China predecessor Rodrigo Duterte.
Philippine ties with the United States have gained ground under Marcos, who has been increasingly vocal about China’s conduct, including over its alleged use of a “military-grade laser” against a vessel supporting a navy food re-supply mission.
It has also complained about large numbers of suspected militia lingering near Philippine-held features in the disputed Spratly islands. China maintains the actions of its coast guard are legal and in its waters.
Balilo said the upcoming maritime exercise will include counter-piracy simulations, and possibly an interception exercise involving a vessel carrying weapons of mass destruction.
Turkey’s Erdogan prevails in election test of his 20-year rule
President Tayyip Erdogan extended his two decades in power in elections on Sunday, winning a mandate to pursue increasingly authoritarian policies which have polarised Turkey and strengthened its position as a regional military power, Reuters reported.
His challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called it “the most unfair election in years” but did not dispute the outcome.
Official results showed Kilicdaroglu won 47.9% of the votes to Erdogan’s 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.
The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis, read the report.
Instead, victory reinforced his image of invincibility, after he had already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people.
The prospect of five more years of his rule was a major blow to opponents who accused him of undermining democracy as he amassed ever more power – a charge he denies.
In a victory speech in Ankara, Erdogan pledged to leave all disputes behind and unite behind national values and dreams but then switched gears, lashing out at the opposition and accusing Kilicdaroglu of siding with terrorists without providing evidence, Reuters reported.
He said releasing former pro-Kurdish party leader Selahattin Demirtas, whom he branded a “terrorist,” would not be possible under his governance.
Erdogan said inflation was Turkey’s most urgent issue.
Kilicdaroglu’s defeat will likely be mourned by Turkey’s NATO allies which have been alarmed by Erdogan’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who congratulated his “dear friend” on his victory, read the report.
U.S. President Joe Biden wrote on Twitter: “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.”
U.S. relations with Turkey have been impeded by Erdogan’s objection to Sweden joining NATO as well as Ankara’s close relationship with Moscow and differences over Syria.
Addressing jubilant supporters earlier from atop a bus in Istanbul, Erdogan, 69, said “the only winner today is Turkey”. “I thank every single one of our people who once again gave us the responsibility to govern the country five more years,” he said.
Erdogan’s victory extends his tenure as the longest-serving leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire a century ago – a politically potent anniversary to be marked in October with Erdogan in charge.
Erdogan, head of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, appealed to voters with nationalist and conservative rhetoric during a divisive campaign that deflected attention from deep economic troubles.
In his victory speech, he attacked the opposition again, calling them pro-LGBT.
Kilicdaroglu, who had promised to set the country on a more democratic and collaborative path, said the vote showed people’s will to change an authoritarian government. “All the means of the state were laid at the feet of one man,” he said.
Erdogan supporters, who gathered outside his Istanbul residence, chanted Allahu Akbar, or God is Greatest.
“I expect everything to become better,” said Nisa, 28, a headscarved woman wearing a headband with Erdogan’s name.
Another Erdogan supporter said Turkey would get stronger with him in office for five more years.
“There are issues, problems in every country around the world, in European countries as well … With strong leadership we will overcome Turkey’s problems as well,” said the supporter who gave his name as Mert, 39, as he celebrated with his son.
Bugra Oztug, 24, who voted for Kilicdaroglu, blamed the opposition for failing to change. “I feel sad and disappointed but I am not hopeless. I still think there are people who can see the realities and truth,” Oztug said.
Erdogan’s performance has wrong-footed opponents who thought voters would punish him over the state’s initially slow response to devastating earthquakes in February, in which more than 50,000 people died, Reuters reported.
But in the first round of voting on May 14, which included parliamentary elections, his AK Party emerged top in 10 of the 11 provinces hit by the earthquakes, helping it to secure a parliamentary majority along with its allies.
French President Emmanuel Macron offered congratulations, saying France and Turkey had “huge challenges to face together”.
The presidents of Iran, Israel, and the Saudi king were among leaders to congratulate him in the Middle East, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish influence, at times with military power. Erdogan, who was for years at odds with numerous governments in the region, has taken a more conciliatory stance in recent years.
Emre Erdogan, a political science professor at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, attributed Erdogan’s success to his supporters’ belief “in his ability to solve problems, even though he created many of them”.
Erdogan had also maintained the support of conservative voters who long felt marginalised. “This era will be characterized by a decline in political and civil liberties, polarization, and cultural fights between two political tribes,” he said.
Erdogan appeared to have prevailed despite years of economic turmoil which critics blamed on unorthodox economic policies which the opposition had pledged to reverse.
Uncertainty about what an Erdogan win would mean for economic policy pushed the lira to record lows last week, Reuters reported.
Reuters reported last week that there was disagreement within Erdogan’s government over whether to stick with what some called an unsustainable economic programme or to abandon it.
Kilicdaroglu had promised to reset governance, restore human rights, and return independence to the courts and central bank after they were sidelined over the last decade.
Four dead, suspect arrested in rare shooting in Japan
Japanese authorities said on Friday they arrested a 31-year-old man in a rural area for suspected murder after four people were killed in a rare shooting and stabbing incident involving a 12-hour stand-off with police.
The suspect had holed up in his house after shooting two police officers who arrived at the scene in response to a report that a woman had been stabbed, the head of the Nagano prefectural police told a televised press conference as reported by Reuers. He used what appeared to be a hunting rifle in the shooting, he said.
The suspect is the son of the head of the Nakano city council, public broadcaster NHK reported.
The two police officers and the woman were taken to hospital and pronounced dead within hours, the police chief, Iwao Koyama, said.
“This is a heinous crime that has aroused great fear in the residents of the prefecture and society at large,” he said.
Another elderly woman also died after an apparent knife attack, police said. She had been lying on the ground outside the house since Thursday afternoon and police had been unable to get to her, media reported.
Police detained the man around 4:30 a.m. (1930 GMT) on Friday, about 12 hours after the first call to emergency responders, media said. He was arrested for the suspected murder of one of the police officers, Koyama said.
Shootings are extremely rare in Japan, where gun ownership is tightly regulated and anyone seeking to own a gun must go through a rigorous vetting process. The suspect had a licence for a hunting rifle, the head of the National Public Safety Commission told a separate briefing.
The suspect’s mother and aunt who were in the house with him escaped on their own, Koyama said.
Few other details were known, including the suspect’s motive.
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