Erdogan’s People’s Alliance party was on track to maintain its parliamentary majority, according to the initial tally by state broadcaster TRT.
“While the final results are not clear, we’re ahead with a big margin,” Erdogan said in a speech from the balcony of his party headquarters in Ankara.
“Our nation has made it’s decision,” he said, citing one of the highest election turnouts in the country’s history.
The election authority, the Supreme Electoral Board, said it was providing numbers to competing political parties “instantly” but would not make the results public until the count was completed and finalised.
Erdogan, 69, has governed Turkey as either prime minister or president for two decades. In the run-up to the election, opinion surveys had indicated the increasingly authoritarian leader narrowly trailed his challenger. The opposition candidate’s party accused Anadolu of manipulating results, insisting at one point that the 74-year-old finance official was narrowly leading.
The race, which largely centred on domestic issues such as the economy, civil rights and a February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people, had appeared to be shaping up as the toughest re-election bid of the Turkish leader’s 20-year rule.
With the partial results showing otherwise, members of Kilicdaroglu’s centre-left, pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, contended the state-run news agency was biased in Erdogan’s favour.
Omer Celik, a spokesperson for Erdogan’s Justice and Development, or AK party, in turn accused the opposition of “an attempt to assassinate the national will” by claiming the state news agency was distorting the results. He called the opposition claims “irresponsible”.
While Erdogan hoped to win a five-year term that would take him well into his third decade as leader, Kilicdaroglu, campaigned on a promise to return the country to a more democratic path and to repair its economy, battered by high inflation and currency devaluation.
Voters also elected MPs to fill Turkey’s 600-seat parliament, which lost much of its legislative power after a referendum to change the system of governance to an executive presidency narrowly passed in 2017.
More than 64 million people were eligible to vote. This year marks 100 years since Turkey’s establishment as a republic – a modern, secular state born on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
Voter turnout is traditionally strong, but the government has suppressed freedom of expression and assembly 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 on pro-Kurdish politicians.
Internationally, the elections were seen as a test of a united opposition’s ability to dislodge a leader who has concentrated nearly all state powers in his hands and worked to wield more influence on the world stage.
Erdogan, along with the United Nations, helped mediate 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 agreement, which is implemented by a centre based in Istanbul, is set to expire in days, and Turkey hosted talks last week to keep it alive.
But Erdogan also has held up Sweden’s quest to join NATO while demanding concessions, contending that nation was too lenient on followers of the US-based cleric and members of pro-Kurdish groups that Turkey considers national security threats.
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 per cent, down from a high of around 86 per cent. The price of vegetables became a campaign issue for the opposition, which used an onion as a symbol.
In contrast with mainstream economic thinking, Erdogan contends that high-interest rates fuel inflation, and he pressured the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey to lower its main rate multiple times.
Erdogan’s government also faced criticism for its allegedly delayed and stunted response to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that left 11 southern provinces devastated. Lax implementation of building codes is thought to have exacerbated the casualties and misery.
In his election campaign, Erdogan used state resources and his domineering position over media to try to woo voters. He accused the opposition of colluding with “terrorists,” of being “drunkards” and of upholding LGBTQ+ rights, which he depicts as threatening traditional family values in the predominantly Muslim nation.
In a bid to secure support, he increased wages and pensions and subsidised electricity and gas bills, while showcasing Turkey’s homegrown defence and infrastructure projects.
Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance pledged a return to a parliamentary democracy if it won both the presidential and parliamentary ballots. It also promised to restore the independence of the judiciary and the central bank, and to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other forms of democratic backsliding.
“We have all missed democracy so much. We all missed being together,” Kilicdaroglu said after voting at a school in Ankara.
Ogan, a former academic who has the backing of an anti-immigrant nationalist party. His candidacy was expected to siphon potential backers from the two main candidates.
At polling stations, many voters struggled to fold bulky ballot papers – they featured 24 political parties competing for seats in parliament – and to fit them into envelopes along with the ballot for the presidency.
In the 11 provinces affected by the earthquake, nearly 9 million people were eligible to vote. Some 3 million people left the quake zone for other provinces, but only 133,000 people registered to vote at their new locations.
In Diyarbakir, a Kurdish-majority city that was hit by the earthquake, Ramazan Akcay arrived early at his polling station to cast his vote.
“God willing it will be a democratic election,” he said. “May it be beneficial in the name of our country.”
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