Opinion: Rebirth of a nation?
On June 24, Turkish voters will choose a new president and a new parliament in a historic election. Turkey is at a crossroads. The nation will decide whether to grant the incumbent president ultimate power or open the way to a return to parliamentary democracy.
Latest polls from the Gezici research institute show that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) will lose its majority in parliament and the presidential election will head into a second round. Erdogan is polling at 48 percent and his bitter rival, social democrat Muharrem Ince of the Republican People's Party (CHP), looks set to provide the stiffest challenge.
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Ready for a fresh start
But how reliable are the polls? Not very, if past experience is anything to go by. What's more, the number of undecided voters is much larger this year. And the atmosphere of fear cultivated by Erdogan over the years prevents many voters from revealing their true intentions.
No matter what the polls say, Turkey is ready for a fresh start. The opposition has been running a successful campaign, with strong candidates. Maybe even the most effective campaign of the past sixteen years under Erdogan. CHP presidential candidate Ince is adept at turning Erdogan's rhetoric into the stick with which to beat him. Meral Aksener — former interior minister and leader of the newly formed, Kemalist IYI party clearly enjoys ripping apart Erdogan's campaign pledges in a loud and confrontational manner. And Selahattin Demirtas, the jailed leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP, has refused to bow to the constraints of his prison cell, taking Turkish social media by storm with smart and humorous tweets. This is giving hope to voters, something that has been missing during the dark and oppressive AKP rule.
Read more: Could Turkey's opposition reset ties with the EU?
The electorate also seems to have learned from previous mistakes. This year more people will be at the ballot boxes than on the beaches on election day.
First step: Fair elections
Change is in the air, but for it to become a reality, elections must be free and fair. Observers and the opposition are prepared. If there is any kind of fraud or manipulation, the government won't be able to get away with it that easily this time. People are simply fed up and the current system is no longer sustainable.
The Turkish lira has dropped 50 percent against the US dollar over the past two years. Under the ongoing state of emergency, foreign investors are shying away from Turkey. The justice system has come to halt. Thousands have lost their jobs. Many have been arrested. The press is under siege and what's left of independent media has little room to breathe.
The day after
Strong rivals, a weak campaign, a struggling economy and a desire for change have all left Erdogan with a seemingly slim chance of victory in the first round of the presidential election.
If his AKP loses its parliamentary majority, and the presidential vote goes into the second round, the opposition will feel invigorated. With all the financial and domestic challenges that await, any new leader will need to be in a position of strength to carry out the painful rebirth of this nation.
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