ISTANBUL – “Istanbul!” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shouted to the sea of supporters he gathered for a show-of-force rally ahead of next Sunday’s election — the toughest of his two-decade rule.
“If you say okay, we will win for sure!” The masses were packed shoulder-to-shoulder across the tarmac of Istanbul’s old Ataturk airport: a tidal wave of Turkish flags and banners with the 69-year-old president’s face.
Erdogan was the mayor of this city before leading his Islamic-rooted party to power and ending half a century of secular rule in the mostly Muslim but officially secular state.
The loss of Istanbul to the opposition in 2019 mayoral elections cracked Erdogan’s aura of invincibility and sounded the first warning bell for the approaching vote.
The latest polls suggest that Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu are locked in a dead heat and probably heading to a runoff on May 28. But surveys in Turkiye are an inexact science and both are trying to show their supporters that they can win outright next weekend by picking up more than 50 per cent of the vote.
Kilicdaroglu staged a smaller but still-impressive rally that filled a park on the Asian side of the city facing the Sea of Marmara the day before. But Erdogan and his party charted 10,000 buses to bring in people from 39 provinces for what the president dubbed “the rally of the century” on Sunday.
He claimed that more than a million people had shown up — and aerial footage of the event beamed live across the nation suggested that Erdogan might have been right. -AFP