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A sizeable majority of young Turks say they want change, but report feeling sceptical about whether opposition parties can secure improvements in jobs, schools and freedoms. Pollsters say young people, who make up 12 percent of all voters in the presidential and parliamentary elections, will be decisive in what looks to be a very tight race for Mr Erdogan and his AK Party.
Justice, immigration, jobs based on merit and clear economic policies appear top of youngsters’ list of priorities.
Damla, 19, a history student in Istanbul who declined to give a last name, said: “I am not completely at ease with my decision, but I think I will choose the best of the worst (and support the opposition).”
Turkey’s annual rate of inflation rocketed to almost 80 percent in June, marking its highest level in about 20 years.
Consumer prices increased by 78.6 percent last month compared with a year ago, driven by the soaring cost of food, drink and transport.
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Damla said: “I feel like I am not living. I am just trying to survive. If the AK Party loses this election the new government should still feel the pressure of the people on them.”
So far only Mr Erdogan has formally declared he will run while an informal opposition coalition has yet to announce a presidential candidate.
Mr Erdogan was elected president in 2014 after just over a decade as Turkey’s Prime Minister.
The authoritarian has a long winning-streak since taking the helm as PM in 2003, but shifting polls suggest he would suffer a narrow defeat and his AK Party would lose its grip on Turkey’s parliament.
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Some Turks are reportedly already discussing what might happen if Mr Erdogan loses the election, but refuses to give up power.
Human Rights Watch says Mr Erdogan’s Government has set back Turkey’s human rights record by decades with critics and political opponents targeted, the independence of the judiciary undermined and democratic institutions hollowed out.
Since taking office, Turkey’s president has moved a traditionally secular society in an Islamist direction, transformed the country into a regional military power and cracked down on dissent via the courts.
Statistics office and polling data shows those born between the mid-1990s and 2010s – so called Generation Z, or Zoomers – make up some 13 million of the 62.4 million Turks set to vote in June.
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Six million will be eligible to vote for the first time.
Murat Gezici, head of polling firm Gezici, said young voters are generally annoyed at the Turkish Government, but not bound by a specific ideology. He added they do not completely trust the opposition either.
Gezici’s polls show Generation Z voters aged 18-25 strongly oppose clampdowns on lifestyles, free expression and the media.
Mr Gezici said: “Eighty percent of this generation will not be voting for the AK Party.”
Pedestrians in front of the Hagia Sofia Blue Mosque in Istanbul
First time voter, Yusuf, 18, said most world economies have been hit hard in the wake of the Covid pandemic and war in Ukraine.
He said: “I think the person ruling our country right now is the best and most suitable leader. I will vote for the AK Party because they make plans to make people comfortable.
“The economy may not be doing well, but this is the case in all countries.”
Turkey’s youth jobless rate for those aged between 15 to 24 years rose 0.8 percentage points to 20 percent in April, according to Trading Economics. The OECD average is 10.8 percent.
The unemployment rate in Turkey edged up to 11.3 percent overall in the same month.
Pollsters have described young voters’ motivation as a wildcard which adds to the election’s unpredictability.
Much hinges on who a group of six opposition parties choose as challenger to Mr Erdogan.
Cem Uzan, a former leader of the Young Party, and Muharrem İnce, leader of the Homeland Party, have so far only expressed an interest in running.
Mehmet Ali Kulat, chairman of MAK Consulting, said: “Young people want change.”
MAK’s research shows 70 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds back the opposition.
He said younger voters tend to compare their economic prospects to foreign peers, while older voters look more at infrastructure investments such as roads and hospitals.
Helin, 21, from Ankara, said her standard of living has worsened because of Government policies so she will vote for the opposition.
However, she told Reuters she worries their proposals may not efficiently address problems in migration policy and minority rights.
She said: “I believe a change in power would at least solve the urgent issues.”