The President of Türkiye, Recep Tayyip Erdoganhas emerged as a controversial figure in recent years: equally feared and loved, the Turkish politician, who has two decades in powerfaces this Sunday what constitutes the biggest electoral challenge since taking office with some polls giving the lead to Kemal Kiliçdaroglu just days before the vote.

The country seems to be facing a scenario with few precedents, with an opposition that is taking advantage and seeking to put an end to a leadership that has suffered, especially after earthquakes that took place in February and that resulted in more than 50,000 dead.

The electoral race has taken on a new look in light of the crisis that is plaguing Turkey, with a runaway inflation and a significant rise in unemploymentissues for which many directly blame the measures promoted by Erdogan himself, who has called for unity and has once again accused the opposition of supporting terrorist groups in one of his last major rallies before the contest.

Erdogan, 69, began his political career in the 1960s at the within Islamist activism, but it was not until 1994 that he became mayor of Istanbul. However, his political rise was temporarily thwarted by the 1998 coup.

Although it has now become the Turkish politician who has spent the longest in power, it was not until the 2000s that he founded the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). The party’s solid victory in the 2002 parliamentary elections propelled Erdogan to the head of government, a position he would not relinquish until eleven years later due to the consecutive term limit established in the Turkish constitution.

In 2017, Erdogan, who managed to be elected president by popular vote two years before, decided to go a step further; He reaped another victory in a referendum that allowed him to implement a turn towards a presidential model that left the figure of the prime minister out of the game and allowed him to combine powers.

The Turkish head of state, who has backed a purely conservative model which has raised numerous criticisms from the opposition and minority sectors of Turkish society, has moved the country away from the secular path established by Kemal Ataturk, founder of the republic and an indispensable figure in Turkish politics.

However, the events of recent years have begun to take their toll on a president increasingly authoritarian and repressive that could now suffer the consequences of a response that many consider lax and chaotic to the crises and disasters that have hit the population.

A democracy in danger

There are many voices that have been warning for years that Turkey’s democracy, historically fragile, is in danger. The authorities have notably increased crackdown on dissidents, who accuse Erdogan of silencing journalists, activists and opponents, especially in the wake of the 2016 coup attempt.

The attempted coup led the government to launch a harsh campaign of arrests that has ended with thousands of people behind bars. Thus, in the last 20 years of power, Erdogan has placed the country at the head of an authoritarian abyss that has brought the judiciary under his wing.

The opposition, for its part, has decided to focus its support on the figure of Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, who not only shares a name with the historic Ataturk but also leads the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which was also his formation. That is why these presidential elections also suppose a contest between two visions of Turkey; a foundational secularism against a more Putinist side of politics.

In this sense, the president continues to try everything to curb support for his main opponent as he needs formations such as the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) and the Greater Unity Party (BBP) to have a majority in Parliament.

Kiliçdaroglu’s challenge

the figure of Kilicdaroglu has been gaining strength in recent months thanks to the backed by a coalition of six opposition parties and the recent support given to his candidacy by the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

The HDP, the target of a harsh campaign of arrests by security forces for its alleged ties to the PKK – including arrests of senior officials and public representatives on “terrorism” charges – has initially stated that it would not present a candidate for the Presidency, paving the way for Kiliçdaroglu, whom in the end he has openly supported.

Kiliçdaroglu, 74, a member of the Alevi minority, has also been one of the most recognizable faces of the Turkish opposition in recent years, especially after leading a nearly month-long march for justice in the country in 2017 that led to one of the biggest shows of force against Erdogan since he came to power.