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Turkey returns to the polls for its presidential run-off election


It's Election Day in Turkey again. President Erdogan failed to get a clear majority two weeks ago. Many analysts suggest his strong showing in the first round does bode well for extending his run as Turkey's leader. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul and joins us now. Good morning.


RASCOE: So, Peter, what are you seeing at polling stations today?

KENYON: Well, it was nothing like Round 1, at least in terms of turnout at the places I visited. Back on May 14, turnout was put at more than 88%, extremely high. But at the polling stations I visited today, there were no lines of people snaking out the door down the street. Voters who had taken 30 to 40 minutes to cast their vote in Round 1 - they were finished in about five minutes this time. So turnout appears to be down. Some voters did tell me they were ready for someone other than Erdogan to be in charge. Like all the people interviewed for this story, 80-year-old Zeynep (ph) didn't want to give her family name. She, like others, is concerned that there could be official retaliation of some kind for talking to the foreign media about the election. Zeynep, heard here through an interpreter, told me there are some key issues besides the feeling that Erdogan's 20 years in office are enough, in her opinion.

ZEYNEP: (Through interpreter) First of all, 100%, they should focus on violence against women. That's a very important issue. And beyond that, they should deal with corrupt businesses and the manipulation of the currency. Whatever is good should happen. Whether it's going to happen or not, I'm a bit pessimistic about that. Change is a must, but I can only hope it will happen.

KENYON: Now, besides the bad economy, Erdogan's also running after receiving harsh criticism for his government's response to the devastating earthquake earlier this year in southern Turkey. But even so, he polled higher in Round 1 than his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and by a comfortable margin.

RASCOE: What are Erdogan voters saying about their candidate now?

KENYON: Well, their general theme might be described as we need a tough leader to get the country through tough times. That was certainly the sentiment among a group of men I met in front of a vendor's cart. It was selling simit. That's sometimes called Turkey's version of a bagel. But here's a bit of what they had to say.

ZAFER: (Non-English language spoken).

KENYON: Now, 52-year-old Zafer (ph) there was naming Turkey's grocery store chains where prices have skyrocketed. Zafer said they should be forced to close for 15 days as punishment. At that point, another man, 32-year-old Hayrettin (ph), interjected. He said that wouldn't scare them enough. He thinks the owners should be thrown in jail. So there's plenty of anger to go around, if not full agreement about to what extent Erdogan and his government should bear the blame.

RASCOE: So what are some of the other issues that dominated the campaign?

KENYON: Well, immigration is a big one, especially the growing conclusion among many Turkish families that they've done enough hosting of refugees and migrants for a while. It's been more than a decade since Syrians and others feeling - fearing conflict at home or economic hardship began pouring into Turkey, drastically changing the population in some areas. Now, both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu are vowing to send the migrants home. And as the campaign went on, Kilicdaroglu pledged to get it done within one year.

RASCOE: And what about Turkey's relations with the West? What impact might this vote have on that?

KENYON: Well, it's certainly a major issue, and it's being watched closely. For instance, should Kilicdaroglu somehow pull out a victory here, the West could look to see Sweden's bid to join NATO, for example, quickly approved. Turkey had been blocking it, is still. It finally approved Finland's accession bid not long ago. Erdogan is still demanding Sweden extradite scores of people that Turkey considers to be terrorists. Now, beyond that, there are other questions. Turkey's purchase of Russian missiles is a problem in Washington. What impact might that have on its ability to upgrade its fleet of F-16 fighter jets? So this race is likely being closely watched in a number of world capitals.

RASCOE: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul, thank you very much.

KENYON: Thanks, Ayesha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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