(Adds US State Department, paragraphs 10-11, Kremlin spokesman, paragraphs 16-17)
By Ali Kucukgocmen
ISTANBUL, May 13 (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan held his final election rallies in Istanbul on Saturday, accusing the opposition of working with US President Joe Biden to overthrow him, as he made a final call in the leading up to the biggest challenge of his 20-year tenure. rule.
Polls show Erdogan trailing leading opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu a day ahead of one of the most sweeping elections in Turkey’s modern history. However, if neither of them wins more than 50% of the vote and gets an outright victory, a vote will be held on May 28.
Voters will also elect a new parliament, likely a tense race between the People’s Alliance made up of Erdogan’s conservative Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) and the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance formed of six opposition parties, including his secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), founded by Turkey founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
The polls open at 8am (5am GMT) and close at 5pm (2pm GMT). Late on Sunday, there could be a good indication of whether there will be a second round for the presidency.
Erdogan’s campaign last month focused on his government’s performance in defense industry and infrastructure projects, and his claim that the opposition would reverse such developments.
One of his talking points was that the opposition takes orders from the West and will bow to the wishes of the Western nations if elected.
At a rally in Istanbul’s Umraniye neighborhood, Erdogan recalled comments made by Biden and published by the New York Times in January 2020, when he campaigned for the White House. At the time, Biden said Washington should encourage Erdogan’s opponents to defeat him electorally, emphasizing that he should not be ousted by a coup.
The comments, which resurfaced later that year in a video that made Biden the most popular topic on Twitter in Turkey, were condemned as “interventionist” by Ankara at the time.
“Biden gave the order to overthrow Erdogan, I know that. All my people know this,” said 69-year-old Erdogan. “If that is the case, the ballots tomorrow will also give an answer to Biden,” he added.
A spokesman for the US State Department said Turkey has been a long-standing ally of the US and Washington will monitor the election closely, but added: “The United States does not take sides in elections.
“Our only interest is the democratic process, which must be both free and fair. We trust that the Turkish authorities will conduct the elections in accordance with their long, proud democratic tradition and their laws,” the spokesman said.
Erdogan also criticized Kilicdaroglu for his comments about Russia, calling Moscow an important partner for Turkey. “Russia is one of our most important agricultural allies,” he said.
Turkey’s western allies have been irked by closer ties between Ankara and Moscow under Erdogan. Turkey is a member of NATO, which has staunchly supported Kiev since Moscow launched a full-scale invasion of its neighbor last year, but it has not imposed sanctions on Russia.
Kilicdaroglu told Reuters on Friday that his party has concrete evidence of Russia’s responsibility for releasing “deep fake” content online ahead of Sunday’s election. He did not present the evidence and Reuters was unable to independently verify it.
But he added that if he wins the presidency, he will keep Ankara’s good ties with Moscow.
Russia categorically rejects Kilicdaroglu’s allegations of election interference, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Saturday.
“We are extremely disappointed with this statement from the opposition,” Peskov said, adding that Kilicdaroglu could not provide evidence of the alleged interference “because it doesn’t really exist”.
CARE ABOUT THE RESULTS
Anticipation and excitement run high among Turks ahead of the vote, with some worried about rising tensions, even violence, when the results come in.
While there are concerns about how Erdogan would react if he loses, the president said in a televised interview on Friday that he would accept the results of the election regardless of the outcome.
Kilicdaroglu, a 74-year-old former civil servant, did not hold a meeting on Saturday, but visited Atatürk’s mausoleum in Ankara. He was accompanied by crowds of his supporters, each carrying a single carnation to place on the grave.
The president’s re-election efforts have relied heavily on opposition allegations of collaboration with Kurdish militants and those Ankara holds responsible for a 2016 coup attempt.
Kilicdaroglu is a “separatist,” Erdogan later said in Kasimpasa, an AK Party stronghold where he grew up. “Whatever the terrorists in Qandil, unfortunately that is what (Kilicdaroglu) is,” he added, referring to the location where the leaders of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) are stationed.
Kilicdaroglu has denied such allegations.
Tension has risen in the days leading up to the election, with Kilicdaroglu wearing a body armor to his Friday rallies in response to information his party received about an attack.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Additional reporting by Eric Beech and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Frances Kerry and Daniel Wallis)