An intestinal virus has bedridden Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a few weeks before the elections that could cost him his place at the head of the country. A first in 20 years.

For the first time since coming to power in 2003, the flamboyant Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan sees his support wavering, observe experts. Elections will be held on May 14 in this country that connects Europe to the Middle East.

Polls give a narrow lead to his main rival, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, at the head of a coalition of six opposition parties.

“These are elections that seem decisive, both for the destiny of Mr. Erdoǧan and for all his words, his ideology and his way of governing the country for twenty years,” said Sami Aoun, director of the Observatory of the Middle East and North Africa from the Raoul-Dandurand Chair.

He had to rest on Wednesday, he announced on Twitter, and was unable to visit the communities of Kırıkkale, Yozgat and Sivas as planned.

His sick leave will continue this Thursday. He will have to miss the inauguration of the country’s first nuclear power plant, built by the Russian company Rosatom.

On the international scene, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan thus plays the balancing act, analyzes Mr. Aoun. The country is a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and has offered its support to Ukraine, but without cutting ties with Russia, as evidenced by this new nuclear power plant.

Households are struggling to make ends meet in Turkey, where inflation has peaked at 50%. This spiraling economic crisis can be partly attributed to the management of the incumbent president, experts reported to The New York Times in mid-April. And it is a hot topic of this election campaign.

“Exiting from the economic crisis is undoubtedly a fundamental issue,” observes McGill University doctoral student Atagün Kejanlioglu. “The Kılıçdaroğlu campaign always tries to come back to [this topic] whenever Erdoǧan makes a comment to reinforce identity polarization,” adds Mr. Kejanlioglu, who is originally from Turkey.

“Inflation was at one of its highest points in the world, whereas in the previous decade there had been a growth boom in Turkey”, also explains Laurence Deschamps-Laporte, scientific director of the Center for international studies and research at the University of Montreal.

“Construction projects have always been used to mobilize Erdoǧan’s electorate during election campaigns,” Kejanlioglu said. The collapse of some recently built hospitals and the damage to Hatay airport have raised questions of credibility. »

“The first time Erdoğan was propelled to power was by an earthquake [that of 1999]. This time, will an earthquake get the better of him? asks Sami Aoun. There were several corrupt contractors around the outgoing president who committed building code violations. »

Added to these two crises is that of the millions of refugees living in Turkey, the country that hosts the most refugees in the world. “It is a land of welcome, Turkey, but when the economy falters, it is a difficult situation,” said Ms. Deschamps-Laporte.

The six opposition parties united behind Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu share a common political vision: to unseat Erdoǧan and bring back the parliamentary political system that existed before 2018.

“There has been a tightening of political power, and that is a worrying reality for democracy in Turkey,” Deschamps-Laporte said.

Indeed, since the failed coup of 2016, tens of thousands of people have been imprisoned and powers have centralized in the hands of the president.

Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu’s coalition brings together opposition parties, both centre-right and centre-left, nationalist or pro-Europe, secular or Islamic.

But what could really tip the scales in their favor is the tacit support of the Kurds. Indeed, the alliance of leftist and pro-Kurdish parties has not nominated a candidate and supports Mr. Kılıçdaroğlu.

“These people have a strong mobilization which can reach 11%, even 12% of the votes”, details Mr. Aoun, also professor emeritus at the University of Sherbrooke. “They are really going to be the party that is going to decide the fate of Erdoǧan. »

This same tactic enabled the opposition to defeat some presidential-backed candidates in the 2019 municipal elections.

A blow, according to Atagün Kejanlioglu: “It broke the cult of invincibility around Erdoǧan. »