by Burak Akinci, Zeynep Cermen
ANKARA, June 24 (Xinhua) -- Turks are heading to the polling stations on Sunday to vote for their leader and members of parliament, in the most important elections in decades following a tremendous change in the political system.
"These elections are very important for our future and the country's future and democracy," said Mehmet Oncuoglu, a 38-year-old engineer, in a polling station in Ankara's Yildizevler neighborhood.
"Despite all of our political differences, it is very important that we come and vote, this is our duty as citizens," he added.
"We are voting to decide if we want to continue on this path or not," he said accompanied by his wife and their eight-year-old daughter, without saying which political party or candidate they support.
Many voters were rushing at early hours to the polling stations on a cloudy but warm summer day, indicating a high turnout of the voting, as predicted by public opinion surveys.
People queued in front of polling centers even before the start of the voting, which begins at 8 a.m. local time (030 GMT) and ends at 5 p.m. (130 GMT).
"I will personally vote for stability and for our president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, our country has suffered enough in recent years," said Bekir who refused to give his surname.
The 30-year-old man was referring to a failed military coup aiming to topple the government in 2016, which shocked the country and was followed by a crackdown against suspected perpetrators and a state of emergency which is still in effect.
Polling stations are traditionally located in schools and libraries across Turkey, as nearly 59 million voters will cast their votes in the key elections.
These elections are crucial because Turkey will shift to an executive presidency from a parliamentary one, and Erdogan, who has won each and every election in his 15 years of power, is seeking a second presidential term.
However, he is facing a strong and disciplined opposition campaign amid economic trouble, and the race is deemed tighter than ever.
In another polling station located near a primary school in Cankaya district, there is a strong security presence and special forces are armed with assault rifles to prevent any incident, as several government officials and the army's top brass living nearby are voting.
"We want a change, Turkey is not governed in a proper and modern manner. We are being ostracized by our western allies because of wrong policies and on top of it, all the economy is in turmoil," said Ezgi Huner, a female representative of the youth section of main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).
Voters flocked into the polling stations calmly on Sunday morning in Istanbul. A total of 10 million voters will cast their votes across the city in nearly 29,000 ballot boxes set up in schools and libraries.
"This is a very important day and I hope it will be a bright new beginning," said Jasmine Toprak, a mother of two, at a polling station in Cihangir Munir Ozkul Middle School on the European side.
She thought that the value of education in the country is not properly recognized.
"I want a happy and united country again for my children, where they can have a good education," she told Xinhua.
Muslum Kayabas, another voter, said Turkish people now want to live in a more civilized country, where justice and law prevail.
"Some of our basic infrastructure problems were solved with several projects," Kayabas told Xinhua.
"But it is not all," he added. "People have different demands now like freedom of speech, justice and the rule of law."
In another polling station established in Ataturk Library in central Istanbul, Basak Kok, a young volunteer, started his day at 6 a.m. (030 GMT) in the morning.
Her main job is to monitor the voting and counting.
"At the end of the day, when the counting is over I will double check the results in two online applications and a hardcopy document to make sure that they all match," Kok told Xinhua.
The security measures have been upgraded across the city and more than 38,000 policemen will be on duty in Istanbul alone.
Police officers are also present at all polling stations to ensure the safety of the voters and polls.
They are also in charge of transferring ballots to district election boards when the voting is over.
Eight political parties are competing in the parliamentary elections and six candidates, including current President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, are racing for president.
Surveys predicted that Erdogan would face a run-off on July 8 with his main rival, Muharrem Ince, a former physics teacher and secular candidate of the CHP.
Whoever wins, the country's political system will change radically. The new president will be given sweeping powers, as the role of prime minister is dissolved and the president can issue laws by decree.