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What's at stake in Turkey's runoff election

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Tomorrow, Turkish voters go to the polls in a runoff election between the two-top vote getters for president, the incumbent President Erdogan and veteran politician Kemal Kilicdaroglu. NPR's Peter Kenyon reports that two issues have dominated the campaign - migrants from Syria and elsewhere and extreme inflation.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Standing on an Istanbul street corner, it's not hard to find people with strong opinions about this election. Like most of those interviewed for this story, 52-year-old Dilek didn't want her family name used. She's worried about possible official retaliation for speaking to foreign media about the upcoming vote. Talking to Dilek, it's not hard to see how migrants, especially Syrians, became a hot election topic. Millions of Syrians fled conflict at home more than a decade ago, only to discover that Europe had closed the borders and was paying Turkey to keep them. Dilek says she's had enough. She sees a country that's losing its national identity.

DILEK: (Through interpreter) Coming from home to here, I didn't see many Turks on the road. Syrians, Afghans, Arabs, that's all. Right and left, they speak in foreign languages. No one speaks Turkish. And this won't get better. It will get worse. The more they vote, the more Tayyip will give them.

KENYON: Under Turkish law, migrants wouldn't be able to vote unless they became Turkish citizens. And judging by their campaign statements, both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu are committed to sending migrants home. Both have been endorsed by a Turkish ultranationalist party that's calling for tough anti-migrant measures. Kilicdaroglu has cut his self-imposed deadline for repatriating Syrian migrants from two years to one.

The other big issue on a lot of minds is the economy, which has been staggering under the weight of soaring inflation. Standing outside a currency exchange office, I meet Osman, who's keeping an anxious eye on the exchange rate between the slumping lira and Western currencies, something a lot of people are doing these days. Osman starts off talking about Kilicdaroglu but quickly shifts to Erdogan, though he doesn't use the president's name. He just calls him the man.

OSMAN: (Through interpreter) I hope Kilicdaroglu will win, but I doubt he will. After 20 long years in power, somehow the man will still not let go. His past is dark, if you know what I mean.

KENYON: When asked what he thinks, another five years in power for Erdogan would mean for the country, Osman doesn't hesitate, saying he doesn't think Erdogan's government would last for another five years.

OSMAN: (Through interpreter) I don't think it will be for another five years. I think it will collapse in a year or two because the economy won't hold, and the markets are bad. According to classic economic theory, it is not sustainable. But we will see.

KENYON: Many economists blame Erdogan's unorthodox economic views for the sagging economy's woes. Analyst Selim Koru at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey says if Erdogan does win, people inside Turkey and in capitals around the world will have a pretty good idea of what to expect - a deepening of the vision for Turkey's future that Erdogan has spent two decades shaping.

SELIM KORU: He has a very clear, I think, political vision for Turkey, which is a very sort of pious, homogenous, hierarchical place that's fiercely competitive. That's the spirit he's looking for, a very competitive nation on the global scale.

KENYON: On Sunday, Erdogan will find out if voters still support that vision and whether they still think he's the one to deliver it.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
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