Turkey heads to the polls as Muslim scholars rally behind Erdogan’s bid

Turkey is heading to the polls on Sunday as the country seeks to elect a new president, with incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his secular rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in a tight race, according to the latest polls.

Turkey’s influential President Erdogan faces formidable opposition as various factions unite against him, making it the most challenging political battle of his career.

The 69-year-old represents the People’s Alliance, a coalition of his AK Party and other conservative parties.

Kilicdaroglu is part of the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP). It is the candidate for the six opposition parties of the Nation Alliance.

According to a survey conducted by pollster Konda, Erdogan is at 43.7%, while Kilicdaroglu has 49.3%. That would mean neither candidate will reach the majority required for a first-round victory, signalling a potential run-off between the two contenders on May 28th.

Supporters of Erdogan are concerned that his potential defeat would mark a regression to Turkey’s strict secularist history, which was characterised by limitations on religious expression, including banning of hijabs in public spaces.

Over his 20-year rule, Erdogan has significantly altered Turkey’s economy, implemented Islamic reforms, and limited the military’s influence. He is also recognised for enhancing Turkey’s global standing.  

But his popularity has declined due to the country’s struggling economy in the past 18 months, while critics accuse him of undemocratic actions.

Backing from Muslim scholars

Earlier in the week, Erdogan was backed by fifty Islamic scholars from across the globe.

“The Turkish elections hold significant implications for Muslims, both within Turkey and around the world. Thus, it is crucial for knowledgeable individuals to provide guidance on this matter,” the scholars said in a statement, as translated by Islam21C.

“It is widely acknowledged that under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership, Turkey has brought substantial benefits to Muslims. Erdoğan’s policies have provided freedom and security, lifted hijab restrictions, allowed for the construction of mosques, and fostered the memorisation of the Qurʾān.”

The statement said Turkey has become a “safe haven for Muslims facing injustice and persecution worldwide.”  

It added that the country has “consistently defended the Prophet (ﷺ) against Western offences, restored the Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque to its original status, and advocated for Jerusalem and its ongoing issues.”

In 2013, Erdogan made a significant impact by lifting the ban on women wearing the hijab while working in the public sector, which enabled more women to enter the public space. It also introduced several social aid programs that particularly targeted nonworking women, such as child benefit payments and salaries for those caring for the elderly.

CHP, meanwhile, has previously supported the ban on the hijab, and Erdogan warns that it may be reintroduced if he is not re-elected.

Meanwhile, another issue that has taken centre stage in this election is immigration. Anti-refugee sentiment is rising in Turkey, leading to reports of violence, abuse, and crime between Syrian and Turkish communities.

The Turkish government reports that of the 5.5 million foreigners in Turkey, approximately 3.7 million are Syrian refugees. While the government’s refugee policy has garnered international praise, opposition candidates are capitalising on the growing hostility towards refugees.

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