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Turkey Moves Closer Toward a Presidential Election Runoff

On Monday, Turkey’s presidential election appeared to be heading towards a second-round runoff, as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled the country with an iron grip for two decades, led his main rival but fell short of the votes required for an outright victory.

With 99.4% of domestic votes and 84% of overseas votes counted, Erdogan had secured 49.4% of the votes, while his main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu gained 45%, with nationalist politician Sinan Ogan receiving 5.2%. Erdogan told supporters he could still win but would respect the people’s decision if the race went to a runoff on May 28th.

The election results showed that Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party was also set to retain its majority in the 600-seat parliament. Read more.

Although the assembly has lost much of its legislative power after a 2017 referendum to change the country’s system of governance to an executive presidency narrowly passed.

Anadolu news agency said Erdogan’s ruling party alliance was hovering around 49.3%, Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance had around 35.2%, and support for a pro-Kurdish party stood above 10%. The fact that Erdogan appears to have held on to his majority increases his chances of winning a second-round vote, with more voters likely to support him to avoid a split legislature.

presidential election runoff in Turkey

This year’s election 2023 was against economic turmoil, a cost-of-living crisis, and a devastating earthquake that killed over 50,000 people in February. Western nations and foreign investors are also keenly awaiting the outcome because of Erdogan’s unorthodox leadership of the economy and his often mercurial but successful efforts to put Turkey at the center of international negotiations.

More than 64 million people, including overseas voters, were eligible to vote, and nearly 89% cast their ballots. Voter turnout in Turkey is traditionally strong, despite the government suppressing freedom of expression and assembly over the years, especially since a 2016 coup attempt.

Erdogan blamed the failed coup on followers of a former ally, cleric Fethullah Gulen, and initiated a large-scale crackdown on civil servants with alleged links to Gulen and pro-Kurdish politicians.

Opinion polls in the run-up to Sunday’s vote had given Kilicdaroglu, the joint candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, a slight lead over Erdogan, who has governed Turkey as either prime minister or president since 2003. Kilicdaroglu campaigned on promises to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other forms of democratic backsliding and repair an economy battered by high inflation and currency devaluation.

presidential election runoff in Turkey

For his part, Erdogan led a highly divisive campaign to stretch his rule into a third decade, portraying Kilicdaroglu as colluding with “terrorists” and supporting what he called “deviant” LGBTQ rights.

Kilicdaroglu sounded hopeful for a second-round victory. “We will win the second round … and bring democracy,” said Kilicdaroglu, 74, maintaining that Erdogan had lost the trust of a nation now demanding change.

Ogan, the nationalist politician who received 5.2% of the vote, has not said whom he would endorse if the elections go to a second round. He is believed to have received support from electors wanting a change after two decades under Erdogan but unconvinced by the Kilicdaroglu-led six-party alliance’s ability to govern.

Critics maintain the president’s heavy-handed style is responsible for a painful cost-of-living crisis. The latest official statistics put inflation at about 44%, down from a high of around 86%. The price of vegetables became a campaign issue.

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