Ankara (AFP) -
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday banned music from his campaign stops and vowed to heal the earthquake-stricken nation's wounds as he formally set the next election for May 14.
Erdogan signed a decree on national television that kicks off campaigning for what is widely seen as Turkey's most consequential vote of its post-Ottoman history.
It is also shaping into the most difficult of the 69-year-old leader's two-decade rule.
Voters will face a stark choice between keeping Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party in power until 2028 or handing the reins back to the main secular party of Turkey's founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
Erdogan said he would run under the slogan: 'Now for Turkey'.
But he set a sombre tone to the campaign season by banning music and instructing candidates from his party to contribute to the emergency service in charge of earthquake recovery work.
'Our agenda during the election (campaign) will focus on efforts to heal the wounds of earthquake victims and to compensate for economic and social harm,' he said.
- Losing in polls? -
Erdogan is a tireless campaigner and a gifted public speaker who appears to come alive on stage.
But he will have to dig deep to pull off a victory in an election that some of his own allies had suggested he should push back by a year.
Turkey was already battling the worst economic crisis of Erdogan's time in power when it was hit by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed tens of thousands of people and left millions homeless last month.
The United Nations estimates the cost of damage alone at more than $100 billion.
His political opponents have formed the type of broad-tent coalition that Erdogan himself relied on to win more than a dozen elections over his career.
The six parties united behind secular opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu include die-hard nationalists and an Islamic party as well as more moderate voices who want to push Turkey back on a more predictable course.
Public opinion polls are notoriously unreliable in Turkey and some show Erdogan still holding on to a lead.
But others show him trailing his far less flamboyant opponent by more than 10 percentage points.
- 'Turkey needs this' -
Analysts are now watching the movements of a leftist pro-Kurdish party that was excluded from the anti-Erdogan alliance because of some of the other opposition leaders' more nationalist views.
The party is expected to hold talks with Kilicdaroglu in the coming days.
It won nearly 12 percent of the vote in the last general election and is now seen as the kingmaker in the race.
Erdogan enjoyed some support from Kurdish voters in the earlier stages of his career.
But the party helped an anti-Erdogan coalition sweep to power in historic 2019 municipal elections that saw the opposition seize power in Istanbul and Ankara for the first time since the 1990s.
Kilicdaroglu kicked off his campaign by flying to Kahramanmaras -- a southeastern city closest to the epicentre of the last month's first massive jolt.
'Turkey needs this. It needs elections,' the 74-year-old said. 'It needs change.'