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Turkey will head to the polls on Sunday to vote in both parliamentary and presidential elections. This is the first time in its history that voters will be voting in two elections simultaneously. The election poses the first big challenge to current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan since he came to power in 2003, so he is eager to win reelection. His new presidency would be a powerful executive presidency, following constitutional changes made last year in Turkey.
The constitutional changes mean that the country’s parliamentary system will be transformed into an executive presidential system. Along with giving the president more executive powers, other changes will include getting rid of the prime ministry and parliament’s monitoring role. Additional powers given to the president will include the ability to declare a state of emergency, issue executive decrees, and dissolve parliament. The voting in both elections will follow the new rules of these constitutional changes.
Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), who is eager for reelection, is running against main challenger Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Both candidates spoke to eligible voters on the last day of campaigning, urging people to get out and vote. “The presidency requires experience,” said Erdogan as he attacked Ince’s credentials. “Tomorrow, we will have a completely different Turkey. Tomorrow, discrimination will come to an end,” said Ince, in defense.
The AK Party and the National Movement Party (MHP) came together during this election cycle to form the People’s Alliance, with Erdogan as their supported candidate. The CHP, the Good Party (IYI) and the Felicity Party (SP) came together in response to the formation of the People’s Alliance to create the National Alliance, backing Ince as their candidate. Previously, political parties were banned from creating alliances during parliamentary elections. However, recent legislation will allow it in these coming elections in hopes that smaller parties will be able to enter parliament with the help of larger ones. The People’s Alliance and the National Alliance were formed because this legislation made them legal with the hopes of giving smaller parties more of a voice. Citizens will still vote for individual parties on the ballot, but these alliances will allow smaller parties to have a chance of passing the unusually high 10 percent parliamentary election threshold.
“This is no longer a Turkey we want. Rights are violated, democracy is in terrible shape,” said a 50-year-old health sector worker after voting in Istanbul. She opposes Erdogan and believes change is necessary. Veysel Emre Yersel, a 37-year-old real estate agent who is also against Erdogan being reelected, told Al Jazeera that “…the country is moving towards an authoritarian regime and democratic standards are falling. I would like to wake up to a better Turkey with a different government. There should be diversity in a democracy, in which everyone’s voices are heard. In the current climate there is no diversity, there is only one voice.”
Turkey has been in a state of emergency for nearly two years after a failed coup became deadly. Erdogan blamed the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based self-exiled religious leader who was his former ally, for the failure of the coup. The emergency rule that has gone on since July 2016 restricts personal freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with emergency decrees. Turkey’s actions following the coup have been condemned by its Western allies, along with human rights groups claiming that they’re using it to silence opposition to Erdogan’s reelection. Erdogan’s government says that they are in line with the rule of law, with their actions aiming to remove Gulen’s supporters from Turkish society.