In the Kurtulus Park in Ankara, several hundred people with suitcases gathered on Saturday. They are waiting for buses to take them to their polling stations – up to a thousand kilometers from Ankara. Many of those waiting come from the earthquake zones. They have only been living in Ankara since February because their houses have collapsed.

Friederike Böge

Political correspondent for Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan based in Ankara.

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In total, more than three million people are said to have left the earthquake zones. Only 133,000 of them have re-registered. The others must return to their hometowns on election day if they want to exercise their right to vote.

Dissatisfied with aid for earthquake victims

People from the earthquake areas are particularly motivated to vote, says Dilan Karademir, who coordinates the buses at Kurtulus Park for the pro-Kurdish HDP. "They say they want to vote where their relatives died."

A young woman from the destroyed Adiyaman confirms this: "We go to the polls to get our rights." She is dissatisfied with the state aid for those affected. That's why she wants to "vote Erdogan out of office."

Since many Kurds work in Ankara and Istanbul, but are still registered in their hometowns in the south-east of the country, the pro-Kurdish HDP also offers bus rides for them. "We also do this so that the village chief (muhtar) does not vote for them," says HDP politician Karademir.

For example, in Siirte. Travel time: 18 hours. "We want to support the voters in our homeland," says Kadir, an electrician. He will spend the night on the bus and arrive at eleven o'clock in the morning on election Sunday. He wants to stay in Siirte for another night "to celebrate that Tayyip is gone", then he wants to go back again.

His colleague Ömer, a bricklayer, believes that in the event of defeat, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan "will not quietly step down." He fears riots by Erdogan supporters. He also does not rule out election manipulation. "When the cats cause a power outage again," he says ironically. He is referring to power outages during the 2017 referendum, which, according to critics, were used to circulate prepared ballot boxes.

Many students also have to put up with long journeys

In the new parliament, the HDP is likely to play the role of securing a majority, because according to polls, neither the current government alliance nor the opposition alliance will achieve an absolute majority. The party is likely to demand more cultural rights for Kurds in exchange for its support.

That's what the men here are hoping for. "We have been fighting for a long time for our identity as Kurds to be recognized," says Ömer. He would like to see more Kurdish lessons in schools and complains that the more than three million refugees from Syria have more rights in Turkey than the Kurds. During the election campaign, the opposition announced that it would deport them.

Among those waiting in Kurtulus Park are many students. This is because after the earthquake, the students were initially sent home to use their dormitories for homeless earthquake victims. Then, unexpectedly, the students were called back to the universities.

To register as voters at their places of study, they were only given a period of three days. "This was intentional because young people do not support the AK Party," says Mohammad Furkan, a student from Sanliurfa, a city that was also affected by the earthquake.

His mother fears that if opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu wins the election, there could be attacks by angry Erdogan supporters. "She said she's going to keep watch at the door day and night to prevent me from going out partying."

Kilicdaroglu has urged his supporters to stay at home on election night and warned against armed militias. President Erdogan has deliberately stoked such fears with incendiary rhetoric. According to reports, this has already led to some of the opposition's volunteer election observers backing down. A replacement is now desperately sought for them. Observers warn that electoral fraud could occur if the opposition fails to fully monitor the ballot boxes at all polling stations.

"Our nation will not hand this country over to loan sharks"

While people wait for their buses, President Erdogan is holding his last campaign rally on Saturday in Istanbul's Beyoglu district. The location is chosen deliberately. In Beyoglu, Erdogan's rise as a local politician of the Islamist Welfare Party began in the eighties. Here he spent his youth in the poor district of Kasimpasa. The story of his rise from humble beginnings, first to the mayor of Istanbul, then to the prime minister and president, is part of the Erdogan myth that his supporters continue to cultivate to this day.

The incumbent uses his speech for a final broadside against the opposition. "I'm sure my nation will teach them a lesson on election day. Our nation is not going to extradite this country to loan sharks," the president says. Kilicdaroglu is working with American President Joe Biden to "overthrow" him, Erdogan.

Such rhetoric leads some to fear that Erdogan wants to discredit the election result in the event of defeat. In a television interview on Friday evening, however, when asked whether he would accept defeat, he said: "We came to power by democratic means. If my nation decides otherwise, I will do what democracy asks us to do."