(Istanbul) On the tarmac of the former Atatürk International Airport in Istanbul, it’s a tidal wave: the crowd carrying the red flags of Turkey and the effigies of the president pours in non-stop to listen to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one week before the presidential election.
“Istanbul!” if you tell us okay, for sure, we will win! “Launches the Turkish president, who for this last weekend of the campaign held, like his rival, a monster rally in the economic capital of the country of which he was mayor from 1994 to 1998.
Erdogan, 69, 20 of whom are in power, and his main opponent Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, at the head of a six-party coalition, both hope to win in the first round on May 14.
Mr. Erdogan on Sunday chose the site of the old airport, abandoned since 2018, in favor of Istanbul’s third airport, a grandiose project on the shores of the Black Sea, like the mega-construction sites he loves.
The day before, Mr. Kiliçdaroglu had opted for the Asian side, in a park bordering the Sea of Marmara.
Under the electoral law, both will still be able to hold a meeting next Saturday, on the eve of the vote, and will be in Ankara, the political capital. On the other hand, polls have been banned since Wednesday.
All generations combined, many came with their families on Sunday to applaud the Head of State for an hour and a half, escorted by young children, or by groups of young people, the vast majority of girls and women wearing at least the scarf, sometimes the full black veil.
“The rally of the century,” announced President Erdogan’s AKP party, which put forward the figure of more than a million participants and announced the chartering of 10,000 buses from Istanbul’s 39 municipalities.
“They haven’t even planted a tree or laid a single stone,” says the head of state, who has the opposition booed by the crowd. “We reshaped this country.”
This is what motivated Salih and Yeter Öztürk, a couple of minor civil servants aged 45 and 32: “I admire what he has done, the great works”, says Salih who lists hospitals, bridges, highways … “If the opposition passes, we’re screwed!” “, he lets go in a big laugh.
“He did everything that needed to be done,” adds Cuma Demir, 44, white balloons in hand, who came with his wife Zübeyde and their two little girls. “We were in bad shape before, today we have everything: freedom and comfort”.
“I am honored to be here,” smiled Hayriye Kefal, 68, transported with her disability by AKP buses. “He knew how to serve this country,” she said, sitting on the ground with her flags and signs.
The day before, in front of tens of thousands of equally enthusiastic supporters, Kemal Kiliçdaroglu wanted to breathe a wind of change.
“Are you ready for change? Are you ready to bring democracy? “Launched the president of the CHP, the party founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the first opposition political force, in front of a tide of Turkish flags.
“Together we will lead the country with reason and virtue. I’ll bring spring, I promise! »
The very popular CHP mayor of Istanbul Ekrem Imamoglu, who snatched the megalopolis from the AKP in 2019, spoke at length.
Mr. Imamoglu was barred from running for president by a court conviction which he appealed.
“Rights, law, justice”, “Erdogan thief!” chants the crowd.
“Because of Erdogan, innocent people are in prison,” laments Yunus Mensur, a 76-year-old retired worker, Turkish flag in hand, who hopes an opposition victory will bring back “freedom and democracy”.
“Kiliçdaroglu will do what is right,” prophesies Sabit, 55, who refuses to give his surname “because we are not free: write it down.”
Despite his 74 years, Kiliçdaroglu attracted many young people: “He is like us. He understands people,” enthused Aleyna Erdem, 20, her forehead wearing a red headband in the name of the candidate.
“Kiliçdaroglu will elevate the status of women,” says Müjde Tosun, a 24-year-old supermarket employee, her hair covered in a thick black veil.
For the young woman, who came from the conservative district of Eyüp, the ultra-secular and anti-scarf positions of the CHP, “it’s a thing of the past”.
“I’m not worried about the veil”, only about a re-election of President Erdogan. If that happens, “we’re screwed,” she blurts out.