- Neither Erdogan nor his rival crossed the 50% threshold
- Erdogan is leading after 20 years in power
- Contenders scramble for electoral tally
ISTANBUL, May 14 (Reuters) – Turkey went to a second referendum after President Tayyip Erdogan defeated his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Sunday’s election, lacking a majority to extend his 20-year rule in the NATO member state.
Neither Erdogan nor Kilicdaroğlu see the 50% threshold needed to avoid a runoff on May 28 as a verdict on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian path.
The presidential vote will determine not only who leads Turkey, but whether it returns to a more secular, democratic path, how it handles its severe cost-of-living crisis and manages key relations with Russia, the Middle East and the West.
Kilicdaroglu said he would win the runoff and urged his supporters to be patient.
But Erdogan fared better than pre-election polls had predicted, and appeared confident and in a fighting mood as he addressed his supporters.
“We are already 2.6 million votes ahead of our closest competitor. We expect this number to increase with the official results,” Erdogan said.
With nearly 97% of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan was leading with 49.39% of the vote and Kilicdaroğlu with 44.92%, state-owned news agency Anadolu reported. Turkey’s High Election Board gave Erdogan 49.49% of the vote, with 91.93% of ballot boxes counted.
Thousands of Erdogan supporters gathered at the party’s headquarters in Ankara, blasting party songs from loudspeakers and waving flags. Some danced in the street.
“We know it’s not exactly a celebration yet, but we hope to celebrate his victory soon. Erdogan is the best leader we’ve had for this country and we love him,” said Yalcin Yildirim, 39, a textile factory owner.
Erdogan has the edge
The results reflected deep polarization in a country at a political crossroads. The referendum was set to give Erdogan’s ruling coalition a majority in parliament, allowing him to move on to a runoff.
Pre-election polls indicated a very tight race, but gave Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party coalition, a slight lead. Two polls on Friday showed him above the 50% mark.
The country of 85 million people – already struggling with soaring inflation – now faces two weeks of uncertainty that could roil markets, with analysts expecting volatility in the local currency and stock market.
“The next two weeks will be the longest two weeks in Turkey’s history, and a lot will happen. I expect a significant decline in the Istanbul stock market and a lot of volatility in the currency,” said Hakan Akbas, managing director of Strategy Consultancy. Services, a consultation.
“Erdogan will have an advantage in the second poll after his coalition does better than the opposition coalition,” he added.
A third nationalist presidential candidate, Sinan Ogan, received 5.3% of the vote. Analysts said he could be the “kingmaker” in the runoff, depending on which candidate he endorses.
The opposition said Erdogan’s side was delaying the full results from coming out by filing objections while authorities released the results in an order that artificially inflated Erdogan’s tally.
Clikdaroglu, in an earlier appearance, said Erdogan’s party was “destroying the will of Turkey” by objecting to the 1,000 ballot box count. “You cannot stop what happens with objections. We will never let this happen,” he said.
But there was tension as the votes were counted at the opposition headquarters, where Klikdaroglu was expecting a victory. His supporters waved flags and beat drums of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Key Putin Alli
The choice of Turkey’s next president is one of the most important political decisions in the country’s 100-year history and will reverberate far beyond Turkey’s borders.
A victory for Erdogan, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most important allies, would cheer the Kremlin, but could also cheer the Biden administration and many European and Middle Eastern leaders who have had troubled relations with Erdogan.
Turkey’s long-serving leader has turned the NATO member and Europe’s second-largest country into a global player, modernizing it with mega projects like new bridges and airports and building an arms industry sought after by foreign nations.
But his erratic economic policy of low interest rates, a cost-of-living crisis and inflation, made him the target of voter ire. His government’s slow response to a devastating earthquake in southeastern Turkey earlier this year that killed 50,000 people added to voters’ dismay.
Kıltaroglu has promised to restore democracy after years of state repression, return to orthodox economic policies, empower institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan and rebuild fragile ties with the West.
If the opposition wins, thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released.
Critics fear that Erdogan will rule even more autocratically if he wins another term. The 69-year-old president, the oldest of a dozen electoral victories, says he values democracy.
In the parliamentary vote, Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP’s People’s Alliance, the nationalist MHP and other parties fared better than expected and edged toward a majority.
Written by Alexandra Hudson Editing by Frances Kerry
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