Turkish people report to polls to take part in what has been billed and the nation's most important presidential runoff vote in recent history between incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
The polls opened at 8 a.m. local time (0500 GMT) and will close at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT) on Sunday, with more than 64 million Turks reported eligible to vote at nearly 192,000 polling stations, including more than six million who were first-time voters on May 14.
Millions of voters went to the polls in the first round to elect the country’s president and members of its 600-seat parliament, with Erdogan’s AKP winning a majority against the opposition’s six-party Nation alliance in parliament.
The overall turnout in the first round was 87.04%, of which 49.5% of the ballots went to Erdogan and 44.9% were cast in favor of Kilicdaroglu.
The 69-year-old incumbent president defied opinion polls and came out comfortably ahead with an almost five-point lead over his 74-year-old rival on May 14, but he fell just short of the 50% needed to avoid a runoff.
Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant who is the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, leads the Republican People’s Party (CHP) created by Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Over the last week, Erdogan received the endorsement of nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan, who came third with 5.2% support in the initial vote and was eliminated.
A closely-watched survey, carried out on May 20-21 by national pollster Konda, put support for Erdogan at 52.7% and Kilicdaroglu at 47.3% for the runoff.
Billed as Turkey’s most important election in recent history, Sunday’s vote will decide not only who leads Turkey but also how it is governed amid an economic crisis that saw the national currency plunging to one-tenth of its value against the dollar in a decade. Turkey’s inflation topped 85% in October last year.
In the city of Diyarbakir in the mainly Kurdish southeast, retiree Faruk Gecgel, 54, said he voted for Erdogan as he did two weeks ago.
“It is important for Turkey’s future that the president and parliament, where he has a majority, work together under the same roof. So I voted for Erdogan again for stability,” he said, Reuters reported.
Housewife Canan Tince, 34, said she voted for Kilicdaroglu, who on May 14 received nearly 72% support in the city – a stronghold of the main pro-Kurdish opposition party.
“Enough is enough. Change is essential to overcome the economic crisis and problems that Turkey faces, so I voted for Kilicdaroglu again. We are hopeful and determined,” she said.