By Birsen Altayli and Ezgi Erkoyun

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish university student Yunus Efe has known only one leader of his country – Tayyip Erdogan. As he prepares to vote in elections for the first time this month, the 22-year-old says it’s time for change.

Efe is one of more than 6 million first-time voters expected to cast their vote in the May 14 election. The votes of about 10% of the electorate could prove crucial in deciding whether Erdogan’s rule will continue into a third decade or will come to an end.

When Erdogan came to power in 2003, Efe was just a toddler and said his vote would go to the opposition’s Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who he believes will strengthen the rule of law, human rights and freedom of expression – which critics say will under Erdogan has suffered.

“I’m definitely worried about freedom of speech. In fact, I experience it every day, but we don’t realize it because we’re used to living that way,” Efe said, describing how he thinks twice before liking social media posts or share.

Human Rights Watch said in a 2022 report that thousands of people in Turkey are arrested and prosecuted each year for social media posts, typically charged with defamation, insulting the president, or spreading terrorist propaganda.

Ankara says its measures are necessary to combat the spread of disinformation in the media and online.

Efe said he had been apathetic to the elections and politics “like many young people” but was now excited to vote and drawn to the promises of Kilicdaroglu and his Republican People’s Party (CHP), one of six parties voting allied themselves against Erdogan.

“I think that rights can be restored and justice can be restored,” Efe said in a speech in central Istanbul.

The sentiment points to the challenge Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party face in trying to rally support for presidential and parliamentary elections, whose popularity is being marred by a cost-of-living crisis and skyrocketing inflation.

Sensing their best chance yet to unseat Erdogan, his opponents are pledging to reverse many of his signature moves, including abolishing the all-powerful presidency, seen by critics as a symbol of his quest for ever-greater control.


Erdogan’s share of votes among young and first-time voters is likely to be lower than among other age groups, said Erman Bakirci of pollster Konda Arastirma.

Describing the young voters as a “very angry and hopeless” part of Turkey’s 85 million people, Bakirci said they would be crucial to the outcome because they were such a big bloc.

“They see what their colleagues in Europe are doing and what opportunities they have through the internet and social media,” Bakirci said. “You see that the gap between them has grown… They lack social, economic and legal security. They want to get out of this situation.”

Erdogan has championed the youth in his campaign while criticizing them for not recognizing the development of Turkey’s economy under his watch, drawing on more difficult times before the AK Party took power.

Erdogan, who brought about an economic upswing in his early years in power, has traditionally been supported by Turkey’s conservative voters in Turkey’s core Islamic-Anatolian regions.

Research by pollster Konda last year showed that 57% of first-time voters identified themselves as modern, 32% as traditional conservatives, and the rest as religious conservatives.

Emre Orgun, a 22-year-old who works in the information technology department of a textile company in Istanbul, said he will vote for Erdogan because he doesn’t think the opposition can run Turkey as well as the veteran leader.

“Of course I want the current government to go ahead. We would like her to continue some changes in some officials and in politics,” Orgun said. He said his main problems are high prices and job opportunities.

But a pattern maker working at the same company in Istanbul said she would vote for Kilicdaroglu.

The model maker, who gave her name Berivan, said she was forced to give up her dream of becoming a lawyer due to financial constraints. She criticized the state of the education system and the economy, saying you need friends in the right places to get anywhere.

“I believe that young people have the opportunity to change things. I think a lot of young people think the same way. Education and economy are in very bad shape,” said Berivan from the company’s sewing workshop.

“This situation can be changed by the person the youth trusts,” Berivan said. “We have only one choice as a candidate and we have to trust him.”

(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Birsen Altayli; Editing by Tom Perry and Nick Macfie)


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