As the country witnessed the unprecedented 87 percent voter turnout, we spoke to young and old, single and married people of Istanbul soon after they cast their votes.
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Passionate voters divided along political and ideological lines swamped the polling stations on Sunday in different parts of Istanbul.
For most of the day, the city was covered in a canopy of grey cloud and uncertainty that came to mark the crucial elections.
In a sleepy part of Uskudar’s Fistikagaci neighbourhood, inside a school where a statue of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk served as a reminder for students to follow the founding principles of the Turkish Republic, 44-year-old Didem Sivri Arduc, in jeans and a white shirt, sipped tea and smoked cigarettes with her husband.
There was no apparent tension between the two but the couple differed politically.
While the husband, who didn't want to be named, spoke critically of the AK Party, Didem believed that any alternative to the President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would lead the country to uncertain territory.
“The kind of confidence the government has been able to inspire in people is something new for the Turks. Despite the misgivings, I’m willing to support continuity of the system,” she told TRT World.
Such a view corresponded with what Erdogan had been saying to garner support for a presidential system of governance, which is at the centre of these elections.
“I remember when we were in school we were taught a particular song. It goes something like this ‘there is a village somewhere far away. But it’s our village whether it's reachable or not,'" Didem said.
"Now we are sure we can go to any village in Turkey, thanks to the incumbent government’s focus on transportation. All the villages in the country now have roads.”
Her husband didn't feel the same way, however. He believed the opposition CHP and its allies could bring change.
“These elections are between political parties defending democracy and those opposing it, he said. "The government is silencing the opposition, putting journalists in jail.”
Didem had her own share of problems but she didn't blame the system for it. Her father lived in an old apartment building. His apartment was falling apart and the municipality didn't want to do anything about it.
“The municipality is not willing to contribute funds for the renovation. It’s really frustrating,” she said.
Voters from across the political spectrum point to the performance of the local mayors and municipalities. And it has lead to anger and frustration even among some staunch supporters of the AK Party in several neighbourhoods of Istanbul.
Forty-one-year-old Ridvan Dindarol lives in Kasimpasa district, the same neighbourhood where Erdogan grew up. He sat with his friends inside a school where he had cast his vote earlier. The neighbourhood is full of narrow streets where vendors sold watermelon from the back of their cars and people sipped tea for long hours.
Dindarol found it hard to understand "why people are complaining," even though the governing AK Party fielded criticism over high inflation and flailing Turkish lira.
He said many among those who had been complaining "have expensive phones, luxury cars and look at the restaurants, they are all crowded.”
The 16-year-long governance of the AK Party has changed his life for good, he says.
“Some 20 years ago, we used to wait for the whole night at hospitals to get an appointment with a doctor. There used to be long queues outside stores just to buy some olive oil.”
Though his support for Erdogan was unwavering, he expected more from his local mayor.
“The overhead electricity wires were moved under the streets just a couple of weeks ago. One of the most battered roads in the area was renovated right before the election,” he said. “Of course I am not happy about all this.”
Turkey, which until a few years ago was regarded as one of the best among emerging economies, has faced downgrades from credit rating agencies in the past year.
But Omer Onder, 63, said analysts were pessimistic and that there was more to Erdogan’s appeal than the economy.
“I never believed it when people used to say that Turkey has a lot of enemies. But now I think that is actually the case,” he told TRT World after casting his vote in the Yunus Emre Middle School area in Istanbul's Umraniye district.
The emergence of Erdogan not just as a strong leader domestically but his persistent stance on crucial international issues had angered leaders in the West, he said.
“If Erdogan is so unpopular, the way he is portrayed, then why does he keep winning these elections? I can’t help but say that this propaganda against him started after the ‘One Minute’ incident.”
In January 2009, Erdogan, then a prime minister, lashed out at Israeli leader Shimon Peres during a World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
As Peres spoke and defended Israel’s deadly Gaza offensive, Erdogan responded: "Well, you [Israeli forces] killed people! I remember the children who died on the beaches!"
Many of the AK Party supporters TRT World spoke with referred to the exchange between Peres and Erdogan.
Onder, who owned restaurants in affluent Bebek and Kadikoy neighbourhoods, was critical of the way the Western media had been portraying Erdogan and Turkey.
“Just last night, there were 500 opposition supporters chanting and cursing Erdogan, near my restaurant in Bebek. If Erdogan was such an authoritarian do you think he would have allowed it?”
Some supporters of the opposition were particularly critical of Erdogan government’s "overreliance" on infrastructure spending to boost the economy.
“Our economic growth is based on the construction industry. It’s not sustainable,” said 43-year-old Bulent, who gave only his first name and had travelled from the Aegean province of Denizli to cast his vote in Uskudar's Fistikagaci area.
He also saw Turkey’s secular character being altered. “We studied at schools where students were taught about the Ataturk’s famous speech Nutuk (he gave in parliament in 1927). Now there’s no attention paid to it in government schools.”
But Enes Yumak, 53, who came to vote in Uskudar's Bulgurlu neighbourhood, said the criticism of the AK Party government was nothing but hyperbole.
“If we have any problems, they are temporary. What’s important for me is Turkey’s independence from international powers who constantly want to influence us," Yumak said.
“It’s not like Erdogan is my brother. But if he stays in power, Turkey will be among top three countries in Europe.”
Two of Yumak’s three kids have voted for the opposition, he told TRT World. “The thing with young people is that they get bored. They just do it to see some change.”