With election activities in full swing, party flags, posters and campaign tents of political parties across Istanbul portray a contentious political atmosphere ahead of Turkey's upcoming polls.
In central Besiktas, one of the busiest districts of Istanbul, the skies are covered with flags of political parties that set up their tents next to each other in a cramped square. Each camp takes turns to impress the crowds passing by, with their election songs played on loudspeakers for 15 minutes.
“... determination is hidden in pure essence, willpower of the people is the people’s alliance …” an election song echoes from the election tent of Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the nationalist party of Turkey.
MHP doesn’t have a presidential candidate from its own party, but in this election, they formed an alliance, the People’s Alliance, with the governing AK Party (Justice and Development Party) and BBP (Great Unity Party). The alliance has announced incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as their candidate in the presidential election.
The second alliance is the Nation's Alliance, which is made up of the CHP (Republican People's Party), Iyi (Good) Party, Saadet (Felicity) Party and Demokrat (Democrat) Party in a bid to weaken the governing party's 16-year dominance in the parliament. The parties have nominated their own presidential candidates to run against Erdogan but will run as an alliance for the parliamentary election, which is scheduled for the same day.
“Oh, Turkish nation, Turkish nation ... the end of this road is bad; America is the killer, the killer,” 15 minutes later, the left-wing nationalist Vatan (Patriotic) Party takes its turn. The party is not part of any alliance, but it has nominated a presidential candidate, Dogu Perincek.
On the streets of Istanbul, it is possible to encounter a supporter of each of the political parties. They reflect on the upcoming June 24 elections amid the competitive political environment.
“I will vote for CHP, in the presidential election,” Yusuf Hacihasanoglu, a 28-year-old survey engineer tells TRT World. “I will vote for Muharrem Ince,” the CHP’s presidential candidate.
Sitting on a bench with his friend, Omer, in mostly conservative Uskudar district, Yusuf says there are many reasons behind his decision. “If there’s one reason that I’m not voting for the AK Party, its because I don’t want to vote for the same party as him,” he says jokingly pointing to his best friend Omer.
“Jokes aside, we feel an oppression for 16 years. I believe that we will be freer. We will be able to state our opinion more easily and be freer in the streets,” he says.
But it won’t be an easy race. If no candidate has obtained more than 50 percent of the vote, the second round of voting will be held on July 8. Yusuf believes Ince will run in the second round of the elections.
Unlike Yusuf, Omer believes none of the parties in the People’s Alliance came up with viable projects. “For the stability and continuation of the projects, I will vote for the AK Party,” he says.
Yusuf responds, “Why do only ferroconcrete things appear in your mind when we talk about projects? The People’s Alliance is talking about projects in education and law.”
“Well, they don’t talk about neither of them. You need concrete steps first to talk about justice and law,” says Omer.
“We have been discussing the elections for hours,” Mehmet Demirkiran tells TRT World.
“For justice, protection of rights, and of course for a better livelihood, I support CHP and my candidate is Ince,” says Mehmet. “But my friend Ibrahim thinks differently.”
“The current president already fulfils my expectations, but if he improves even more may God help him,” says Ibrahim.
“I'm gonna vote for him because what he has done is a guarantee of what he is going to do. I definitely believe that if he's re-elected, he will bring more changes. Like the Canal Istanbul project – which will go ahead for sure as soon as he wins.”
He thinks “there is a big effort to take him [Erdogan] down - except Bahceli. Other politicians even Karamollaoglu became part of the other alliance.”
“After July 15, when we saw some people stand by the coup plotters, we felt the necessity of standing by the government for the sake of protecting our state,” Ali Hasan Sengonul, 60, MHP’s vice chair of Uskudar district tells TRT World.
“We believe FETO's leftovers and PKK will be cleaned from Turkey if the People's Alliance wins.”
He says there will be social reforms to improve living conditions in the southeastern part of Turkey and university exams and fuel taxes will be removed. Turkey’s foreign policy, especially in Syria, will go in a better direction, Sengonul believes.
“I'm looking for justice, a selfless leader who is not seeking his own benefits. [Demirtas’s promise of] raising salaries of workers and ensuring workplace safety without corruption is also important for me,” Kardelen, a 27-year-old student tells TRT World in Taksim.
The opposition HDP (People’s Democratic Party), that is not part of any alliance, announced jailed former co-leader, Selahattin Demirtas, as its presidential candidate.
HDP currently holds 47 seats in the 537-seat parliament. Kardelen believes the HDP will be able to exceed the 10 percent election threshold.
“If Demirtas won't be able to run in the second round, I will vote for CHP’s Ince,” she says.
The main concern for another Demirtas supporter Duygu, a 24-year-old lawyer, is justice. She also says she will support Demirtas, adding she doesn't support his party but she will support him personally.
“When I look at the political history of Turkey, he appears different and suitable for the global world. He has a political perspective that resembles worldwide famous politicians. But if there is a second round, I will vote for Ince.”
Duygu’s friend, Sibel, 25, who is also a lawyer has not made her final decision yet. “It might be Meral Aksener, as a female candidate, but her MHP roots make me doubt my decision.”
Meral Aksener, from the Iyi Party, is the only woman running as a candidate for the president's office.
Sibel says political parties should take action to prevent violence against women and protect animal rights.
“Politics in Turkey have been shaped in a certain way. We care about the values that keep the nation together. We're defending all people rather than one person,” Kemal Atalay, 49, vice-chair of the Iyi Party’s Uskudar district tells TRT World.
He says, “whoever from our alliance makes it to the second round, we will support that candidate.”
“I think on the issues of Syria and Palestine, he [Erdogan] did the maximum that he can do. So, just for these issues, he deserves to be chosen,” 26-year-old computer engineer Zeynep tells TRT World.
She says with the current governing party, “left-wing people and the mindset of CHP to understand that religious people are also normal people and they look at us from a more human perspective.”
“I think we are freer now while others say there is a ‘fear empire’. In general, I think we are advancing towards having more freedom.”
“We need a parliamentary democracy in our country because it's a system that welcomes the population of 80 million of Turkey. We support Ince as he talks to a larger voter base with his discourses, projects, the CHP's philosophy and programme,” Huseyin Ozhan, a lawyer and nominated candidate for the Beyoglu district tells TRT World.
“He will bring justice and rule of law to the country and he will decrease tensions among the public. Our country needs this.”
“I will support anyone from the Nation's Alliance who will run in the second round – who seeks to reach a level of civilisation high as the one Mustafa Kemal Ataturk aimed at reaching.”
“Vatan party is the only party that can solve bitter problems in Turkey from the terror problem to the economy to foreign policy by becoming the governing party – and reviving Ataturk's policies,” Secretary of Patriotic party’s Uskudar district Huseyin Alp Dundar, 60, tells TRT World.
“As if it's not enough to lack a programme to solve the terror issue, the other parties are seeking cooperation with a party, HDP, which is supporting the terror and want to start a new ‘peace process,’” he says referring to the Nation’s Alliance.
“We had to fight the Kurdish ‘peace process,’ which was first introduced by Erdogan, and it eventually collapsed when everyone opposed. Should we fight years more with others now?” he asks.
“In this political conjecture, rather than choosing a new president, we need to continue with the current president and strengthen MHP’s role in the parliament,” Orhan Kucukerman, 47, MHP’s vice-chair of Sile district tells TRT World.
“I'd love MHP to have a presidential candidate but our concern has been beyond the party for the last 48 years. So (as party members) we will follow what our leader says.”
“I'm gonna support whoever is the strongest challenger of the current president, Erdogan,” 49-year-old Necati Yilmaz tells TRT World, sitting next to his roasted chestnut vendor in Istiklal Street.
For him, supporting local agricultural production is very important – he wants to eat locally produced legumes, and other goods rather than imported ones.
“I'm not going to support [the ones] who damaged the education system, economy and jurisdiction. I'm not gonna support whoever supported Fetullah Gulen. I will support the one who shows a bright future for the youth in the Turkish Republic. I side with a country where everyone lives freely.”
“The CHP mindset has made the public non-religious. When I sent my children to the mosque to learn Quran, they said you need permission for that,” a 57-year-old baker Ismail Saral tells TRT World.
“I am not going to vote for those who act together with the PKK. They should tell us which services they will bring, rather than destroying what's done. They call Erdogan a dictator, people are free to drink when the call to prayer is recited for Iftar – breaking the Muslim fast."
“Could they be able to drink under a dictatorship?” he asks.
“Temel Karamollaoglu tells the truth as it is and I support the Felicity Party because it defends rights and justice,” 44-year-old Ayse Cito, who is responsible for the public relations of the Felicity Party reflects on the party’s presidential candidate.
“Our party didn't hold back its criticism of the AK party although it is a conservative party as well, and it didn't become allies with AK Party,” she says.
“I think it was the right decision to be part of the Nation's Alliance because people used to say that I would vote for Felicity but it only has 1 percent of the seats,” she explains the party’s one of the motives to be part of the Nation’s Alliance.
Some people were surprised that the conservative party forged an alliance with parties with opposing views.
Havva Azak, 41, the Felicity Party’s chair of Uskudar says she believes the polarisation will end. “The people who are deserving and qualified will be placed in the positions, regardless of their affiliations. Rights and justice will be delivered truly.”
“I guess I will vote for the MHP, as a nationalist,” 19-year-old student Semanur tells TRT World, but she is still in doubt. She criticises CHP for not acting like a true-Kemalist party, saying “they act together with the terrorists.”
“We expected MHP's own candidate, but our choice is the candidate represents our alliance. So in this case, I would vote for Erdogan.”
Her friend Canan, 20, who is also a student, is more hesitant about casting her vote as no presidential candidate meets her criteria.
“I don’t support Erdogan but don’t see any opposition candidate who can challenge him. So I think I won’t vote,” she says.
“I’m a humanist and supporter of communism,” 36-year-old Alpaslan, who is working in the tourism industry says. “I don’t think any of the parties value humanity. They only seek their own interest and benefit.”