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Erdogan Faces Toughest-yet Political Challenge As Turkey Heads To Elections

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday faces his biggest electoral challenge since rising to power in 2002, as the opposition seeks both to prevent his Justice and Development Party (AKP) from retaining its parliamentary majority and inhibit Erdogan from topping the 50 percent threshold needed to win the presidency outright and avert a run-off. Erdogan has achieved tremendous power over the past 15 years, with critics accusing him of Islamizing Turkey—which after the fall of the Ottoman Empire was founded as a secularist republic by Kemal Ataturk; and of cracking down on civil liberties, especially in the wake of a 2016 attempted coup blamed on exiled Turkish cleric and Erdogan foe Fethullah Gulen. Since then, some 50,000 so-called “Gulenists” have been imprisoned with another 150,000 dismissed from their jobs in fields ranging from media to academia to law. As Erdogan has tightened his grip on all aspects of Turkish society, he has faced a growing local and international backlash to what many consider an overt power grab. And while analysts believe that Erdogan will win another term in office—this, despite an energetic campaign by the secular Republican People’s Party’s Muharrem Ince, who has mobilized millions of supporters in mega-rallies—the AKP’s legislative majority is in jeopardy. One of the primary reasons is the weakening Turkish economy, whose double-digit inflation has caused a sharp rise in consumer goods. Moreover, the Turkish lira has lost about 25 percent of its value relative to the American dollar over the past six months. The stakes in Sunday’s elections—the first time Turkey has ever held concurrent parliamentary and presidential votes—are particularly high as the next president will be the first to wield enhanced powers under a new constitution passed in a referendum last year strongly backed by Erdogan.