A week before Turkey's landmark elections, the government and opposition have sworn their supporters to vote at major events in Istanbul. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on his audience in the Maltepe district on Saturday to "replace an autocratic leadership with democratic means." President Recep Tayyip Erdogan berated his challenger as "drunkards and drunks" in front of hundreds of thousands of supporters in Istanbul on Sunday. He also once again accused the opposition leader of collaborating with "terrorists". Erdogan also promised to raise civil servant salaries in the event of an election victory.
In the parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14, a neck-and-neck race between Erdogan and his challenger Kilicdaroglu is emerging. Kilicdaroglu is running as a joint candidate for an alliance of six opposition parties from different camps. If none of the candidates wins an absolute majority in the first round, there will be a runoff on May 28th.
Erdogan has more power than ever
Since the introduction of a presidential system in 2018, Erdogan has had more power than ever before. Critics also fear that the country with around 85 million inhabitants could slide completely into autocracy if Erdogan wins again. The election campaign is marked by an economic crisis and the severe earthquake in February that killed tens of thousands in south-eastern Turkey.
Kilicdaroglu promises to return the country to a parliamentary democracy. On Saturday he said: A democratic change of government would also be a "gift to world politics" in Turkey. In a conversation with the German Press Agency, he also emphasized that he would improve relations with Germany.
He criticized statements by government politicians who equated an opposition victory with a coup. "It shows that they don't believe in democracy," he said. "Whatever they do, the people's voices are valuable and they have to accept that."
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, on the other hand, dismissed concerns that the government would not concede an election defeat. One accepts whatever the people decide, Cavusoglu told the Habertürk broadcaster on Sunday.
Stones were thrown at the mayor of Istanbul
Meanwhile, the opposition Mayor of Istanbul, Ekrem Imamoglu, canceled a performance in the Erdogan stronghold of Erzurum. An employee said that stones were thrown at him, and all the windows of the campaign bus were broken. "We had to leave the area for the safety of our citizens." Imamoglu from the largest opposition party, CHP, is to become vice president if he wins the election. The opposition had previously complained that authorities had tried to prevent the performance.
Erdogan, who in the meantime had to take a break from campaigning due to illness, repeatedly uses sharp rhetoric to attack the opposition bloc and parts of society. He repeatedly expressed anti-LGBT and accused parts of the opposition of speaking out for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people.
Erdogan gave the number of participants at his event in Istanbul as 1.7 million. Kilicdaroglu also performed in front of numerous supporters in Istanbul at a major event on Saturday - an official number of participants was not given.