Turkey elections 2023: Istanbul gripped by anticipation, anxiety hours before polls open

Turkey elections 2023: Istanbul gripped by anticipation, anxiety hours before polls open
4 min read
Turkey - Istanbul
13 May, 2023
Streets across Istanbul's Fatih, Aksaray, Sultan Ahmed, Taksim Square, and Sirinevler were "highly charged" amid anticipation of the results of what has been described as the most important vote in the world in 2023.

Istanbul - like most other Turkish cities - is engulfed in anxiety and anticipation just hours before 64 million eligible voters head to the polls to cast their ballots in Turkey's presidential and legislative elections on Sunday.

A sense of uncertainty and tension can be felt in the streets of the city over the anticipated outcome of what has been described as the most important vote in the world in 2023.

Istanbul is not only the largest city in Turkey but also the most populous province with about 16 million people, making up 18.71 percent of the total population of Turkey, according to 2022 statistics. It also holds 98 seats in the 600-seat parliament.

Sunday's elections come amid alarming xenophobic rhetoric adopted by some opposition forces towards Syrian presence in the country - with some candidates promising their expulsion if they get elected.

The New Arab's Arabic language sister site Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported an atmosphere of tension and polarisation across the streets of Fatih, Aksaray, Sultan Ahmed, Taksim Square, and Sirinevler on Friday, citing its reporter on the ground who described the atmosphere as "highly charged".

A tense atmosphere

Turkish writer and political analyst Islam Ozkan told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that there was a "tense and polarised" atmosphere surrounding Sunday's vote.

"There is participation in election campaign rallies from all segments of society. Everyone is focusing on these elections and eagerly awaiting their results because they are important for the country and the region," Ozkan said.

He added that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government had failed to effectively address several issues, especially after the Feburary earthquake, which may lead many Turks to back opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

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In the famous Taksim Square in central Istanbul, a young Turkish man told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that he intends to vote for Kilicdaroglu.

"Of course, I will vote for Kemal Kilicdaroglu. We are tired of this ruling party that has been governing the country for 20 years. It's time for change," he said.

In the Aksaray area, a Turkish man in his 30s told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that crowds in the squares support Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP), but he added that the economic situation was deteriorating and people were feeling the hardship.

Outside the Hagia Sophia Mosque, Helen tell Al-Araby Al-Jadeed she plans to vote for Erdogan, despite the country's economic crisis. She expressed a lack of trust in the opposition's programme. 

A Turkish young man named Fathi disagreed, saying he intends to vote for opposition candidate Kilicdaroglu. 

"Most young people want to vote for the opposition candidate. We are seeking freedom and new blood in this country," he told  Al-Araby Al-Jadeed.

Turkey's opposition alliance has vowed to reverse many of Erdogan's policies if elected. The promises of change have been popular among Turkey's younger voters.

Youssef Katipoglu, a political analyst and member of the AKP, told Al-Araby Al-Jadeed that these promises were empty with the intention of attracting votes by using appealing rhetoric.

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Just hours to go

Meanwhile, in Taksim Square, most of the people on the streets are tourists - but they too have generated interest in the looming elections.

Malaysian tourist Emma told Al-Aaraby Al-Jadeed that she is eagerly awaiting the results of Sunday's vote.

Hours before the electoral silence period approached, Erdogan attended an election rally in the Sultangazi district of Istanbul on Friday afternoon.

Later in the evening, he made live appearances on 13 television channels, where he criticised his opponent Kilicdaroglu, saying he was "not fit to be a statesman".

Kilicdaroglu quickly took to Twitter to mock Erdogan's appearance saying: "Can I make one more promise? When we govern this country, you will never see all the television channels broadcasting the same content again. We promise democracy, democracy. Democracy is a beautiful and wonderful thing, you know..."

The presidential candidates will need more than 50 percent of votes in the first round to win outright.

If no one crosses the 50-percent mark, the top two candidates will go head to head in a run-off two weeks later, with this year's vote set for May 28.