Turkish voters will head back to the polls for Sunday's presidential runoff
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
This weekend, Turkish voters will cast their ballots in the second round of a presidential election.
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to win a clear majority in the first round, so he faces a runoff against just one challenger.
INSKEEP: And NPR's Peter Kenyon is following this story in one of the most important countries in its region. Hey there, Peter.
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.
INSKEEP: So when you talk with voters, do you get an idea that people think they could change their president that they've had for the last two decades, the leader they've had the last two decades?
KENYON: At the moment, the trend seems to be retaining the president they've had for the last two decades. Many of the people I've spoken with say they believe unless there's some dramatic change in the vote on Sunday, they do expect Erdogan to win another five years in office. Even strong supporters of the challenger, veteran politician Kemal Kilicdaroglu, say they just don't think two weeks is enough time to make up the difference.
INSKEEP: OK. But there have been so many stories about frustration with Erdogan, about the dismay of the opposition, about protests surrounding the response to an earthquake. How would he be in position to hold on to power?
KENYON: Well, it is remarkable. I mean, and then look at the currency. The lira has plunged to another record low. It's now 20 to the U.S. dollar. But when I first started reporting from here, it was, like, 1 1/2 to the dollar. So...
KENYON: ...It's really in bad shape. Families say they can barely pay for basics. Anything else is beyond reach. I spoke with an analyst, Mustafa Akyol. He's a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. He said Erdogan has managed to redirect attention away from this terrible economy by focusing on himself, adopting the mantle of a religiously devout leader, steering this majority-Muslim nation through difficult times. Akyol says surprisingly to some, that message has really resonated with voters.
MUSTAFA AKYOL: It's not the economy here. It's identity politics and culture war. All good, pious, conservative Muslims should vote for him because he's their savior. He's reviving the glory of the Ottoman Empire. He's making Turkey great and Muslim again. He has created a huge propaganda machine, which is pumping this narrative every day to Turkish society through media, through soap operas on TVs.
KENYON: Now, after the first round, as I checked in with voters, the comments I heard most frequently reflected this sharp disappointment with Turkish politics in general, plus a lot of worries for how long they can make ends meet. But there also seems to be a base of belief - maybe it's just a hope - that Erdogan is the one to turn things around despite his unorthodox economic policies that some are blaming for the soaring inflation we see now.
INSKEEP: OK. So we've got the economy. We've got these cultural issues or culture war issues. What else is on voters' minds?
KENYON: Well, in a word, immigration. A lot of anger over that in the Turkish Republic. You might remember over a decade ago, it was Erdogan's government who began welcoming Syrians and other migrants fleeing either conflict or economic hard times at home. Europe had shut its doors. They were paying Turkey to keep the migrants. Now as Turkish families struggle, calls for the migrants to be sent home have been growing, and both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have been listening. Erdogan says a million are going home, and Kilicdaroglu says similar.
INSKEEP: When do the results come in?
KENYON: Well, the polls are open all day Sunday. They close at 5 p.m. Istanbul time. And we should be getting unofficial results a few or several hours later.
INSKEEP: Amazing reflection of politics in Turkey and around the world. Peter, thanks so much.
KENYON: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.