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Erdogan facing genuine challenge in Turkey polls

By AFP - Jun 10,2018 - Last updated at Jun 10,2018

ISTANBUL — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is facing an unexpectedly tight contest in this month's Turkish elections, with opponents showing a new-found unity and his charismatic main rival building campaign momentum.

Erdogan, who has transformed Turkey since 2003 as prime minister and now president, likes to see himself as the undisputed heavyweight champion of Turkish elections and undefeated at the ballot box.

But analysts say his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) could lose its overall majority in the June 24 simultaneous presidential and parliamentary polls to an opposition alliance.

While Erdogan is favourite to win a second presidential mandate with the enhanced powers agreed in last year's referendum, the election could go to a run-off where victory for the Turkish strongman would not be a foregone conclusion.

The main opposition Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a bookish figure who rarely rattled Erdogan, shook up the poll by choosing not to run himself and giving the nod to Muharrem Ince, a fiery MP from the party's left.

While Ince has energetically criss-crossed Turkey and happily ripped out pages from the Erdogan guide to no-holds-barred campaigning, his party has also forged a broad alliance with the dissident nationalists of former minister Meral Aksener and the conservative Saadet (Felicity) Party.

"The opposition is showing a certain degree of coordination and unity for the first time," Asli Aydintasbas, fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations told AFP, saying it could even "gain the upper hand" in parliament.

She said the AKP had underestimated Ince after Kilicdaroglu who was considered an "easy" opponent. 

"Now Erdogan is faced with someone who talks back, much like he does, and is being listened to."

 

'Opposition capitalising' 

 

The elections are also taking place with a troubled economy looming in the background instead of being the usual campaign ace for Erdogan.

Inflation has spiked up to 12.15 per cent and the lira has lost some 20 per cent in value against the dollar this year.

The president is facing a "combination of a difficult economic context and a surprisingly vigorous and unified opposition", Paul T. Levin, director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, told AFP.

Ince was displaying "his strong rhetorical abilities and taking the fight to Erdogan", said Levin.

Levin added there was also growing dissatisfaction over the presence of 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. "The opposition are capitalising on this."

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