In less then a week's time Turkey will head to the poles to vote both for a new president and for a new Parliament, in what is considered one of the most important elections in Turkey's modern history.
What makes these elections so important? The new president will assume an office imbued with sweeping executive powers that voters narrowly approved in a constitutional referendum last year. These include the power to issue decrees with the force of law, appoint the cabinet and vice-presidents as well as senior judges.
The main candidate is of course Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is still considered the most popular politician in Turkey.
If he wins, Erdogan will have unprecedented powers as president and he'll continue to shape Turkey and its society for years to come. However recent polls suggest that Erdogan's popularity is erdoing fast and in decline. This is due to his violations of human rights, mass arrests of hundreds of thousands of Turks, erosion of Turkey's secular values and his general authoritarian drive. But the most important factor in Erdogan's decrease in popularity is the declining Turkish economy and the crash of the Turkish currency, the Lira.
This opens the door for the other candidates in the Turkish opposition.
There is Muharrem İnce, a charismatic physics teacher who is the candidate of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s party (CHP), and Meral Aksener, nicknamed the ‘she-wolf’. She is the leader of the new nationalist Iyi (Good) party and is popular with both youth and working-class Turks.
Temel Karamollaoglu, the leader of the Islamist Felicity party, is also running, and has emerged as a key critic of Erdogan even though their parties share ideological roots. Selahattin Demirtas, a charismatic politician once dubbed the ‘Kurdish Obama’ and who leads the leftist and Kurdish issue-oriented People’s Democratic party (HDP), is running for the presidency from his prison cell in the city of Edirne. He awaits trial on terrorism charges.
Turkey's presidential candidates : Erdogan, İnce, Aksener, Karamollaoglu, Demirtas and Perinçek.
Erdogan is still the most popular Turkish politician, and is likely to win the presidential race. Polls are notoriously unreliable in Turkey, but for now it looks like he will easily win the first round, but without an outright majority. A second-round race against Ince or Aksener still favours the president, but is increasingly looking too close to call. It will depend on whether the opposition can draw away conservative, nationalist voters, as well as Kurdish voters.
Also, there is a very real possibility that Erdogan will win the presidency but lose parliament to the opposition, which has promised to roll back the constitutional amendments passed last year.
The fact the Erodgan's and his AKP party's political situation looks somewhat precarious and uncertain leads many in Turkey to believe that the elections might be tempered in some way and even might be rigged in Erdogan's favor.
These concerns were bolstered after a leaked video of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has sparked fears of possible vote rigging ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for June 24.
The video shows Erdogan telling party officials to secure majorities on ballot box monitoring committees to "finish the job in Istanbul before it has even started."
Erdogan has so far refused to comment on the video, but analysts warn the controversy will only fuel existing concerns. "Already there are extreme doubts about the security of the polling stations," political scientist Cengiz Aktar said. "The entire system has been redesigned to ensure Mr. Erdogan and his party will win the upcoming elections."
Last year's ballot proposal to extend presidential powers won narrow approval amid allegations of fraud. International monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe strongly criticized the vote, highlighting the use of ballots without an official stamp. Stamping is seen as an essential measure to prevent tampering.
International election observers said at the time that as many as 2.5 million ballots may have been manipulated in the referendum, which narrowly passed with 1.4 million votes to give Erdogan unprecedented new powers. Turkey dismissed the criticism, saying foreign observers were partial.
Shortly before calling the June elections, the Turkish government pushed through electoral changes, including allowing the use of unstamped votes, relocating some polling stations and allowing security personnel at those venues.
These electoral changes have prompted the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) filed a lawsuit with the Constitutional Court to annul the changes that it says will prevent free and fair elections. The Constitutional Court rejected the claims and approved the changes.
All of these things leave many people in Turkey, and outside it to wonder if the 2018 elections in Turkey will truly be free and fair, and won't be rigged or manipulated in any way.