Turkey’s knife-edge vote heads to likely runoff

  • Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said he’s ready to enter a runoff election against his rival. 
  • Figures from state media showed Erdogan had 49.4 percent of the vote. 
  • One of the candidates needs 50 percent or more of the vote to avoid a runoff. 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he was prepared to enter a runoff against his secular rival if final results from the country’s knife-edge election showed no clear winner.

Figures from the Anadolu state news agency showed the 69-year-old conservative leader had 49.4 percent of the vote, while his secular rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu trailed with 44.9 percent, with just over 96 percent of the ballots counted.

One of the candidates needed to break the 50-percent threshold to avoid Turkey going to its first election runoff in the post-Ottoman republic’s 100-year history.

Erdogan appeared before a sea of supporters early Monday to proclaim he had a “clear lead” but would wait for the final result.

He said to huge cheers: 

I wholeheartedly believe that we will continue to serve our people in the coming five years.

But the secular opposition camp spearheaded by Kilicdaroglu countered with its own claim.

“We are leading,” the 74-year-old tweeted.

Opposition figures said the government was purposely slowing down the count in districts where Kilicdaroglu was enjoying strong support.

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“They are contesting the count emerging from ballot boxes where we are massively ahead,” Istanbul’s Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told reporters.

Imamoglu said the opposition’s internal vote count showed Kilicdaroglu picking up 49 percent of the vote and Erdogan just 45.

But neither the state media count nor the one offered by the opposition avoids the possibility of Turkey holding another presidential vote on May 28.

High stakes 

Turnout was expected to reach 90 percent in what has become a referendum on Turkey’s longest-serving leader and his Islamic-rooted party.

Erdogan has steered the nation of 85 million through one of its most transformative and divisive eras.

Turkey has grown into a military and geopolitical heavyweight that plays roles in conflicts from Syria to Ukraine.

The NATO member’s footprint in both Europe and the Middle East makes the election’s outcome as critical for Washington and Brussels as it is for Damascus and Moscow.

Erdogan is lionised across swathes of conservative Turkey that witnessed a development boom during his rule.

More religious voters are also grateful for his decision to lift secular-era restrictions on headscarves and introduce more Islamic schools.

We all missed democracy’

Erdogan’s first decade of economic revival and warming relations with Europe was followed by a second one filled with social and political turmoil.

He responded to a failed 2016 coup attempt with sweeping purges that sent chills through Turkish society and made him an increasingly uncomfortable partner for the West.

The emergence of Kilicdaroglu and his six-party opposition alliance – the type of broad-based coalition Erdogan excelled at forging throughout his career – gives foreign allies and Turkish voters a clear alternative.

A runoff in two weeks could give Erdogan time to regroup and reframe the debate.

But he would still be hounded by Turkey’s most dire economic crisis of his time in power, and disquiet over his government’s stuttering response to the February earthquake that claimed more than 50 000 lives.

“We all missed democracy,” Kilicdaroglu said after voting in the capital Ankara. “You will see, God willing, spring will come to this country.”

‘Can’t see my future’

Pre-election polls indicated Kilicdaroglu would win the youth vote – nearly 10 percent of the electorate – by a two-to-one margin.

“I can’t see my future,” university student Kivanc Dal, 18, told AFP in Istanbul on the eve of the vote.

Erdogan “can build as many tanks and weapons as he wants, but I have no respect for that as long as there is no penny in my pocket”.

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But nursery schoolteacher Deniz Aydemir said Erdogan would get her vote because of the economic and social progress Turkey made after half a century of corruption-riddled secular rule.

The 46-year-old also questioned how a country could be ruled by a coalition of six parties – a favourite attack line of Erdogan’s during the campaign.

She said: 

Yes, there are high prices… but at least there is prosperity.

Erdogan’s campaign became increasingly tailored to his core supporters as election day neared.

He branded the opposition a “pro-LGBT” lobby that took orders from outlawed Kurdish militants and was bankrolled by the West.

Erdogan’s ministers and pro-government media referred darkly to a Western “political coup” plot.

The opposition began to worry that Erdogan was trying to hold on to power at any cost.

Erdogan bristled when asked if he would agree to leave if he lost.

“This is a very silly question,” he said on the eve of the vote. “We would do what democracy requires.”

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