Europe 1 with AFP 16:55 p.m., May 28, 2023

Polling stations in Turkey closed on Sunday after the second round of a presidential election in which incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan left as the favorite after two decades in power, facing his Social Democratic rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Despite a strong desire for change on the part of part of the electorate, tired of the economic crisis, restrictions on freedoms and the hyper-presidentialisation of a power that has sent tens of thousands of opponents behind bars or in exile, the 69-year-old head of state came out with a five-point lead in the first round on 14th May. with 49.5% of the vote. Tired face, moving slowly, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, voted at midday in the district of Usküdar on the Asian side of Istanbul: a cheerful crowd was waiting for him, to which bodyguards distributed toys while the president slipped some banknotes to children.

"No country in the world has participation rates of 90%, Turkey has almost reached them. I ask my fellow citizens to come and vote without weakening," he said. In the first round turnout reached 87%. Almost simultaneously, smiling despite the unfavourable forecasts, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu cast his ballot in Ankara urging his fellow citizens to vote "so that true democracy and freedom can come to this country, to get rid of an authoritarian government".

"Difficult" campaign

Both candidates called on their supporters to watch over the ballot box until the final results. "Now is the time to protect the will of our nation above our heads until the last moment!" tweeted Erdoğan immediately after polls closed at 17 p.m. The Erdoğan camp has repeatedly described the opposition led by Kılıçdaroğlu as "terrorist" because of the support given to it by the leaders of the pro-Kurdish HDP party. "We call on everyone to calm before the count," Halis Firet, 56, an observer for Kılıçdaroğlu's CHP party, told a polling station in Istanbul.

The first results are expected in the early evening, suggested officials of the ruling AKP, the Islamic-conservative AKP of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. On the evening of the first round, they had been the subject of numerous verbal challenges by the opposition, which this time decided to post five tellers in front of each ballot box - a million observers across the country.

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Two opposing visions

Those interviewed by AFP in the queues of polling stations testified to the polarization of the country after these weeks of campaigning. In Ankara, Mehmet Emin Ayaz, a 64-year-old entrepreneur, said it was "important to keep what has been achieved over the last twenty years in Turkey" during the Erdoğan era. On the other hand, Aysen Gunday, a 61-year-old pensioner, wanted to make this election "a referendum" against the president and chose Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Two visions of the country, society and governance were offered to the 60 million voters of Turkey (the diaspora has already voted) called to the polls: stability at the risk of autocracy with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, or the promised return to the rule of law and justice, according to his words, with his opponent, a 74-year-old former senior official. No more than during the campaign of the first round, the economy did not impose itself in the national debate despite inflation around 40% and the plummeting of the national currency which strongly impacts the purchasing power of the population.

Even the areas devastated by the earthquake of February 6, which left at least 50,000 dead and three million displaced, had massively placed their trust in the head of state who multiplied largesse and promises of reconstruction. Facing him, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the "demokrat dede" - the democratic grandpa - as this trained economist with white hair and thin glasses presents himself, seemed dejected by his delay in the first round. "We are less motivated" than in the first round, acknowledged one of his supporters, Bayram Ali Yüce, a 45-year-old welder.

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Access to official TV

Lacking access to mainstream media and especially official TV channels, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu fought on Twitter when his supporters tried to remobilize voters by going door-to-door in major cities. Faced with this discreet man of Alevi obedience, a branch of Islam deemed heretical by the rigorous Sunnis, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has multiplied the meetings, relying on the transformations he has brought to the country since his accession to power as Prime Minister in 2003, then as President since 2014.

The date of this second round comes ten years to the day after the beginning of the large "Gezi" demonstrations that had spread throughout the country and had been severely repressed. But on Sunday, the Erdoğan camp showed its confidence assuring to prepare the speech of the outgoing president, in the evening, from the presidential palace of Ankara.