The fight for Turkeys presidency is headed for a runoff in two weeks, with the president Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems to have the upper hand when the count ends.
Both Erdogan’s party and the opposition, led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, have tried to say they still have a path to victory, but neither candidate appears set to cross the 50 percent threshold needed for an outright victory. With 99 percent of the ballot boxes counted, Erdogan has 49.4 percent of the vote and Kilicdaroglu is sitting on 44.96 percent, said Electoral Commission Chairman Ahmet Yener. Voter turnout was a very high 88.8 percent, a sign of how important the presidential vote, which happens al.
Expectations before the presidential vote, which takes place together with the parliament choice, was that it would be close. Mr Erdogan is fighting to extend his 20 years in power against a brave and unusually broad six-party opposition united behind Mr Kilicdaroglu. A run-off between the pair would take place on 28 May. But with the final polls ahead of the vote giving Mr Kilicdaroglu the lead, there may be some disappointment in the opposition camp that Mr Erdogan could speed up a second round.
A third candidate, nationalist Sinan Ogan, received about 5.2 percent of the vote and could play a “kingmaker” role in the round if he decides to back one of the two.
Kilicdaroglu accused Erdogan’s party of interfering with the counting and reporting of results and urged his supporters in the country of 84 million to be patient. Accounts from pro-government and opposition sources had diverged markedly overnight.
Pro-government media cheered the result, too Yeni Safak newspaper proclaiming “The People Won,” referring to Erdogan’s People’s Alliance appearing to have won a majority in parliament, potentially giving him a decisive advantage in the presidential election. Both Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) clashed over coverage of the vote count as it came in, a sign of how difficult this contest has become.
Going into the election, the opposition had seen it as its best chance yet to oust Erdogan, promising significant reforms to reverse the increasingly authoritarian turn Erdogan has taken in recent years. The country’s 600-seat parliament, which has lost much of its legislative power under Erdogan’s executive presidency, would return to preeminence under a Kilicdaroglu presidency.
“The winner has undoubtedly been our country,” Erdogan said in a speech to jubilant supporters at his party’s headquarters in the capital Ankara overnight. The mood at the opposition party’s headquarters had been subdued in the early hours as the votes were counted.
The verbal sparring between the candidates during the count followed a generally calm and orderly election day, at the end of a campaign season marked by violence and divisive rhetoric. Long queues formed at schools converted into polling stations. Turks normally vote very heavily in national elections and today’s voter turnout looked even higher than previous ballots.
Voters cited concerns about the economy, which has been on a downward spiral for years, as the primary issue driving their votes, with news of an increasingly likely departure Turkish stocks fell on Monday morning. The lira held near a two-month low, government bonds in dollars fell and the cost of insuring exposure to the country’s debt rose.
Another issue for voters was the government’s slow response to the devastating earthquake in southeastern Turkey that killed 50,000 people in February. But there are also concerns about the country’s authoritarian drift under Erdogan, whose party has dominated the country’s politics for more than two decades. It has allowed Mr Erdogan to shape the country in his image, with crackdowns on dissent a regular feature of his years in power.
“Without democracy and freedom, you can have no economy,” 74-year-old Nil Adula said on Sunday as he prepared to vote in central Istanbul. “The most important thing is that the justice system works as it should.”
The election is being closely watched by Western nations, the Middle East, NATO and Moscow, as the united opposition seeks to oust a leader who has concentrated nearly all state power in his hands and worked to exert more influence on the world stage.
Mr. Erdogan, along with the United Nations, helped broker a deal with Ukraine and Russia that allowed Ukrainian grain to reach the rest of the world from Black Sea ports despite Russia’s war in Ukraine. The deal is due to expire in a few days, and Turkey hosted talks last week to keep it alive.
But Mr Erdogan has also held up Sweden’s bid to join Nato and has at times been a difficult partner for the West, unafraid to talk tough or dig in. As one of President Vladimir Putin’s most important allies, a defeat would unnerve the Kremlin, while the president has also clashed with a number of Middle Eastern leaders.
The result was likely always dependent on slivers of swing voters that include ethnic Kurds – who have voted for either the AKP or left-wing parties traditionally – Turkish nationalists and at least 5 million first-time voters. Mr Erdogan struggled to connect with Generation Z voters ahead of the vote, who appeared unmoved by his appeals to conservative and Islamic values.
“I see voting as a tool to change and influence the government from within,” said Idris Sinan, an 18-year-old high school student and first-time voter, as he emerged from a polling station.
“We have been ruled by this party, the AKP, for 20 years… our country (has) become poor and more lawless,” he added.
Mr. Erdogan seems to have gathered enough of his hard-line support to be swayed by these values. Maximizing the votes from this group will be important in the round.
Many voters said they were convinced by Erdogan’s nationalist stance, which the president said would prioritize Turkey’s security. It also included attempts to associate the opposition with the West and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a banned separatist group that the US and EU label a terrorist organization.
“We are not for America. We are not for the PKK,” said Faruk Baba, a 67-year-old clothing store owner in Istanbul’s Fatih district.
When reminded that Afghanistan’s Taliban had supported Erdogan, he replied: “The Taliban are Muslims. We are Muslims.”
Among AKP supporters, many have cited conspiracy theories spewed by Mr Erdogan in previous weeks that the opposition is a proxy for Western powers.
“Erdogan has stood strong for us,” Ziya Uztok, a 73-year-old in Uskudar. “Kilicdaroglu is an American project.”
“I accept Kilicdaroglu as a citizen, but I would not vote for him,” he said.
For the opposition, they need to maximize the votes of the more swing elements and the Kurdish vote.
Mr Erdogan alienated ethnic Kurds, who used to vote for him in large numbers but – in a historic shift – embraced Mr Kilicdaroglu’s secular centre-left candidacy. “The election for us is about democracy and cultural and political rights,” said Mehmet Uzum, a 52-year-old Kurdish businessman in Istanbul’s Sultanbeyli district.
He said Erdogan and the AKP became toxic to Kurds since they partnered with the nationalist National Movement Party (MHP), which appears to have helped Erdogan’s alliance push for a parliamentary majority.
“We had many friends who were AKP but then they switched to the CHP because of the economy and all the religious talk,” said his daughter, Gizem, 22.
Seeking to secure support from citizens hit hard by inflation, Erdogan raised wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills in the days before the vote, while showcasing Turkey’s homegrown defense and infrastructure projects.
On a side street in Fatih, CHP organizers had been positive on Sunday as they collected meals to give their volunteers throughout the district.
“Before there were certain neighborhoods we couldn’t go to campaign,” said Cigdem Gulduval, a local opposition party official. “Now they’re more receptive. They all pay high prices at the same butchers we do. They all pay the same gas bills.”
Mr Kilicdaroglu and the opposition will have to work hard to overturn what currently looks like the advantage Mr Erdogan will have ahead of the second round.