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‘We want peace’: Divided Turks vote in tense election

A voter casts her ballot in a container acting as an improvised polling station during the presidential and parliamentary elections in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, destroyed by this year's devastating earthquake on May 14, 2023. Turkey votes in a momentous election that could extend incumbent President's two-decade grip on power or put the mostly Muslim nation on a more secular course. Can EROK / AFP

First-time voter Ceren brimmed with excitement as she took selfies with her electoral ID card outside an Ankara polling station, as Turks flocked to the polls on Sunday for pivotal elections.

The 19-year-old student’s burning desire “for change” motivated her to arrive 30 minutes before voting opened, after more than two decades of rule by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Islamic-rooted party.

Ceren is one of around five million young voters eligible to cast ballots for the first time, a group that tends to embrace more liberal views and has only ever known one leader: Erdoğan.

“I was born during this government. I saw to what point we arrived. I don’t want them anymore — enough,” she told AFP from the Turkish capital’s Çankaya district, traditionally a stronghold of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

In Istanbul, voters also queued early outside a school where Erdoğan voted in the presidential and legislative polls, seen as Turkey’s most important in generations.

Recep Türktan, 67, refused to abandon his namesake and potentially hand power to Erdoğan’s CHP rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu and his disparate six-party opposition alliance.

“What matters is not to divide Turkey. We will carry out our duty. I say, go on (with Erdoğan),” Türktan told AFP, saying that economic difficulties currently afflicting the country were the same around the world.

‘We were governed well’

“We were already governed well and it will be better,” added Nurcan Soyer, a headscarf-wearing woman who backs Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which has dominated Turkish politics since 2002.

But not everyone in the more conservative Üsküdar neighborhood, located on Istanbul’s Asian side, was prepared to forgive Erdoğan for the economic crisis and the government’s mishandling of a cataclysmic February earthquake.

“We want democracy, a Turkey integrated with the world. We want to leave behind the problems originated from the earthquake and economy,” said Yüksel, who like many voters declined to state their surname.

Across the Bosporus in European Istanbul, CHP supporter Ulvy Aminci, 58, wanted nothing short of “the French revolution: equality, liberty, fraternity”, saying the final three words in French.

“In the last 20 years, all of that disappeared,” added Aminci, one of thousands of volunteer election observers deployed nationwide across almost 200,000 polling stations.

‘We want peace’

During campaigning, tensions occasionally boiled over, with Istanbul’s opposition mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu pelted with rocks and bottles while touring Turkey’s conservative heartland.

Fears of violence were starting to concern opposition supporter Hande Tekay, who said Turkey needed to “start from the basics” and “regain our dignity.”

The 55-year-old said she would not take to the streets to celebrate a Kılıçdaroğlu victory due to the risk of clashes.

Kılıçdaroğlu himself urged supporters to stay home if they win, warning that there may be “riots.”

“Fake news or not, I will wait for the results at home. Even if we have different points of view, religious or political, we need to live in symbiosis,” Tekay said.

Back in Üsküdar, Yüksel’s wife Ebru echoed the wish for a orderly political process. “There will be no winners or losers in this election. Whoever comes, we want peace,” she said.

© Agence France-Presse

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