Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addressed his final election rally in Istanbul. He made a final pitch before the biggest threat to his 20-year rule and accused the opposition of collaborating with U.S. President Joe Biden to overthrow him.
A day before one of the most important elections in Turkey’s modern history, polls show Erdogan trailing the leading opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu. However, if neither of them receives more than 50% of the vote and wins the election outright, a runoff election will be held 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 will open at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and close at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT). By late on Sunday there could be a good indication of whether there will be a runoff vote for the presidency.
Erdogan’s campaign over the past month has focused on his government’s achievements in the defence industry and infrastructure projects, and his assertion that the opposition would roll back such developments.
One of his talking points has been that the opposition is receiving orders from the West, and that they will bow down to Western nations’ wishes if elected.
At a rally in Istanbul’s Umraniye district, Erdogan recalled comments made by U.S. President Joe Biden and published by the New York Times in January 2020, when he was campaigning for the White House. At that time, Biden said Washington should encourage Erdogan’s opponents to defeat him electorally, stressing he should not be ousted in a coup.
The comments, which resurfaced later that year in a video that made Biden the most popular topic on Twitter in Turkey, were condemned by Ankara at the time as “interventionist.”
“Biden gave the order to topple Erdogan, I know this. All my people know this,” said Erdogan, 69. “If that is the case, then the ballots tomorrow will give a response to Biden too,” he added.
Erdogan also criticised Kilicdaroglu for his comments on Russia, calling Moscow an important partner for Turkey. “Russia has been one of our most important allies regarding agriculture products,” he said.
Turkey’s Western allies have been irked by closer ties between Ankara and Moscow under Erdogan. Turkey is a member of NATO, which has stood staunchly behind Kyiv since Moscow invaded its neighbour last year but it has not imposed sanctions on Russia.
Kilicdaroglu told Reuters on Friday that his party has concrete evidence of Russia’s responsibility for the release of “deep fake” online content ahead of Sunday’s elections. He did not present the evidence and Reuters could not independently verify it.
But he added that if he wins the presidency he will maintain Ankara’s good ties with Moscow.
Anticipation and excitement are running high among Turks in the lead-up to the vote with some concerned about rising tensions, even violence, when the results come in.
While there has been concern about how Erdogan might react if he loses, the president said in a televised interview on Friday that he would accept the outcome of the election, no matter the result.
Kilicdaroglu, a 74-year-old former civil servant, did not hold a rally on Saturday but visited Ataturk’s mausoleum in Ankara. He was accompanied by crowds of his supporters each carrying a single carnation to lay on the tomb.
The president’s re-election efforts have relied heavily on accusing the opposition of cooperating with Kurdish militants and those Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt.
Kilicdaroglu is a “separatist,” Erdogan later said in Kasimpasa, an AK Party stronghold where he grew up. “Whatever the terrorists in Qandil are, unfortunately, that is what (Kilicdaroglu) is,” he added, referring to the location where leaders of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) are based.
Kilicdaroglu has denied such accusations.
Tension has risen in the days leading up to the election, with Kilicdaroglu wearing a bulletproof vest to his rallies on Friday in response to intelligence his party received about an attack.