Erdogan rival appeals to Turkish youth ahead of runoff vote

Erdogan rival appeals to Turkish youth ahead of runoff vote
The Turkish opposition's presidential candidate has made an appeal to the country's youth to support him in the election runoff next week.
3 min read
Kilicdaroglu sought to rally his supporters and improve their morale after Sunday's results [Getty/archive]

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's presidential challenger appealed to young Turkish voters on Tuesday to support him in a May 28 election runoff, as he seeks to prevent the president extending his rule of NATO-member Turkey into a third decade.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, won 45% support in Sunday's vote while Erdogan got 49.5%, falling just short of the majority needed to avoid a runoff of a vote seen as a referendum on his autocratic rule.

Turkish assets weakened for a second day, especially government and corporate bonds and banking stocks, as investors bet that Erdogan would win another five-year term and continue his unorthodox economic policies.

However, Kilicdaroglu, 74, sought to rally his supporters, many now downcast, putting a positive spin on the outcome.

"A message of change emerged from the ballot box. Those who want change in this country are now more than those that don't want it," Kilicdaroglu said, referring to Erdogan falling short of 50%, in a series of tweets addressed to "dear young people".

In a parliamentary election held simultaneously, Erdogan's AK Party and its nationalist and Islamist partners won 322 of 600 seats in the new parliament, achieving a majority that will enable him to argue that voting for him will ensure stability.

Kilicdaroglu appealed to young voters with references to the cost-of-living crisis, which in Turkey has been much exacerbated by Erdogan's insistence on cutting interest rates, causing a sharp slide in the lira and soaring inflation.

"You don't have enough money for anything," he said. "Your joy of life was taken away. Whereas youth should be free of worry."

"You won't get your youth back again. We have 12 days to get out of this dark tunnel...," Kilicdaroglu added.

Kilicdaroglu has vowed to revive democracy after years of state repression, return to orthodox economic policies, empower institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan and rebuild frayed ties with the West.

The vote is being closely followed in Washington, Europe and across the region, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish power. He has also strengthened ties to Russia, putting strain on Ankara's traditional alliance with the United States.

The European Union's top diplomat, Josep Borrell, called on Turkey on Tuesday to fix shortcomings in its election process that were identified by European observers.

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In Sunday's presidential vote, nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan came third with 5.2% support and there will be much focus now on how his supporters will vote on May 28.

In a potential boost to Erdogan, Ogan told Reuters in an interview on Monday he would only endorse Kilicdaroglu in the runoff if the latter ruled out any concessions to a pro-Kurdish party, parliament's third largest.

That party, the HDP, backs Kilicdaroglu but is accused of ties to Kurdish militants, which it denies.

Opinion polls had shown Erdogan, 69, trailing Kilicdaroglu, but Sunday's outcome suggested he and his Islamist-rooted AK Party were able to rally conservative voters despite Turkey's economic woes.

Kilicdaroglu and his alliance want to restore a parliamentary system of government and scrap the powerful executive presidency introduced by Erdogan.

The AKP came first in Sunday's parliamentary vote with 267 lawmakers, followed by Kilicdaroglu's secularist CHP on 169 and the pro-Kurdish party on 61.

The prospect of five more years of Erdogan's rule will upset civil rights activists campaigning for reforms to undo the damage they say he has done to Turkey's democracy. He says he respects democracy.

Thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released if the opposition prevails.