President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main rival Muharrem Ince on Saturday traded blows in mass rallies on the final day of campaigning for Turkey’s most fiercely contested elections in years.
Turks vote on Sunday in snap twin presidential and parliamentary elections called by Erdogan one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule, with the president seeking a first round victory for a new mandate and a strong parliamentary majority.
But the emergence of the energetic Ince as candidate for the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and a wide-based opposition alliance have made the elections tighter than many analysts — and likely Erdogan — envisaged.
After mega meetings by Ince in Izmir and Ankara over the last two days, hundreds of thousands packed the vast Maltepe shoreside on the Asian side of Istanbul for his final rally.
Ince claimed that five million people had surged to the Istanbul rally but it was not possible to immediately confirm the numbers.
He painted a bleak picture of Turkey if Erdogan wins the elections, saying its currency would remain weak, prices high and the issue of 3.5 million Syrian refugees unsolved.
“But if Ince wins, it will not just be Ince who wins… 80 million people will win! Turkey will win!” said Ince, who boasted of holding 107 rallies in the last 50 days.
While Ince in the last days of campaigning opted to hold a single mass rally a day in Turkey’s three major cities, Erdogan has been holding a sequence of smaller but well-attended rallies in Istanbul.
“God wiling, tomorrow evening we will be able to experience this happiness together,” Erdogan told a rally in the Istanbul district of Esenyurt. “Are you ready to bring victory?”
He lashed out at Ince, who has vowed to camp outside the headquarters of Turkey’s election commission Sunday to ensure a fair count. “Mr Muharrem, we are living in a state of law,” he said, adding “all measures” had been taken for voting security.
Turkey’s opposition candidates have repeatedly complained over the lack of airtime offered by largely pro-government media. State-run TRT Haber news channel did now show Ince’s speech live at all while only parts were broadcast on privately-owned CNN-Turk.