Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday banned music at his campaign stops and vowed to heal the wounds of the earthquake-hit nation by formally setting the next elections for May 14.
Erdogan signed a decree on national television officially launching the campaign for what many see as Turkey’s most important vote in its post-Ottoman history.
It’s also turning into the most difficult of two decades of the 69-year-old leader’s volatile rule.
Voters will be given a tough choice: keep Erdogan’s Islamic Party in power until 2028, or take back the reins of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk’s main secular party.
Erdogan said he would run under the slogan: “Now for Turkey.”
But he set a grim tone for the campaign season by banning music and directing his party’s candidates to contribute to the earthquake relief effort.
“Our agenda during the election (campaign) will be focused on efforts to heal the wounds of the victims of the earthquake and compensate for the economic and social damage,” he said.
Losing in the polls?
Erdogan is a tireless campaigner and gifted speaker who seems to come alive on stage.
But he will have to dig deeper to win an election that some of his own allies have proposed pushing back by a year.
Turkey was battling its worst economic crisis under Erdogan when it was hit by a 7.8 magnitude earthquake last month that killed tens of thousands and left millions homeless.
The United Nations estimates the cost of the damage alone at more than $100 billion.
His political opponents formed the broad-tent coalition that Erdogan himself counted on to win more than a dozen elections in his career.
The six parties united around secular opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu include staunch nationalists and an Islamic party, as well as more moderate voices who want to push Turkey towards a more predictable course.
Opinion polls in Turkey are notoriously unreliable, with some showing Erdogan still holding the lead.
But others show him more than 10 percentage points behind his much less flamboyant rival.
Analysts are now watching the movements of the pro-Kurdish party, which was excluded from the anti-Erdogan alliance due to the more nationalist views of some other opposition leaders.
The party is expected to negotiate with Kılıçdaroğlu in the coming days.
Erdogan enjoyed some support from Kurdish voters in the early stages of his career.
But the party helped the anti-Erdogan coalition to power in the historic 2019 elections, when the opposition seized power in Istanbul and Ankara for the first time since the 1990s.