Turkey goes to the polls to decide anti-LGBTQ+ president Erdoğan’s fate

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan votes at a polling station for the presidential and parliamentary elections, in Istanbul. (UMIT BEKTAS / POOL / AFP) (Photo by UMIT BEKTAS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The people of Turkey are casting their votes in an election which could spell the end of anti-LGBTQ+ president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s 20 years in power. 

The presidential election on Sunday (14 May) sees incumbent leader Erdoğan battle it out against main rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to retain power, with polling suggesting his two decade-long rule could come to an end this time around. 

The hotly contested race puts economic issues at the forefront, as the country recovers from the devastating February earthquake, where more than 50,000 people lost their lives.

In order to win the country’s top job, a candidate must get more than 50 per cent of the vote, otherwise there will be a run-off election in two weeks’ time. 

The polls opened at 8am local time for Turkey’s 64 million citizens to cast their votes, with ballots shutting at 5pm. 

A man casts his ballot for Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections (Muhammed Abdullah Kurtar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Erdoğan became the country’s prime minister in 2003 and was then elected president in 2014, with his presidency setting the country back decades in terms of human rights, according to Human Rights Watch.  

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His views on LGBTQ+ people are well-documented, and he said at an election rally on 7 May that his Justice and Development Party (AKP) and other parties in their alliance will “never be pro-LGBT because family is sacred to us”.

In 2020, he launched a vile attack on the community, accusing LGBTQ+ people of “sneaking up on our national and spiritual values again” and “trying to poison young people”. 

The president has also labelled queer youth “vandals” and and called for people to “come out against those who displays any kind of perversion forbidden by God”. 

“I invite all members of my nation to be careful and take a stand against those who exhibit all kinds of heresy that our lord has forbidden, and those who support them,” he said. 

A voter casts her ballot during the presidential and parliamentary elections in the southern Turkish city of Antakya, destroyed by this year’s devastating earthquake. (CAN EROK/AFP via Getty Images)

Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu, however, has been more publicly accepting of LGBTQ+ people. 

In contrast to the president’s authoritarian stance, the opposition leader has said he does not turn “people’s lifestyles into an object of politics”. 

“Politics is a separate thing. Politics is finding solutions to the present problems. We have to respect everyone’s faith and identity,” he said during a live broadcast in 2021

The CHP chairman has also been quoted as saying “nobody can interfere with everybody’s life”, in reference to queer people’s existence.

LGBTQ+ community faces challenges

The LGBTQ+ community continues to face harassment and abuse in Turkey, as well as legal and political challenges. 

Homosexuality is legal in the country but same-sex partnerships and adoption are not recognised, conversion therapy is not banned and Pride parades are censored by the state.

Research by Equaldex shows a large portion of the population remain extremely hostile against the LGBTQ+ community.

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