The two contenders in the Turkish elections claim an early lead but a run-off is likely

  • Opinion polls indicate stiff competition
  • Erdogan’s rule of 20 years is at stake
  • Sources from both camps point to a possible run-off on May 28

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey seemed headed for a presidential election run-off, with both the parties of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu claiming the lead, but sources in both camps admitted they may not clear the 50% threshold for an outright win. .

Early results put Erdoğan comfortably ahead, but as the count continued his advantage eroded, with a run-off coming up on May 28.

Both sides refused to count the other, and no official result was announced. The opposition mayor of Ankara, Mansur Yavas, said that a census conducted by his party indicated Kilicdaroglu’s lead with 47.42 percent, while Erdogan won 46.48 percent.

Pre-election polls gave Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party alliance, a slight lead, with two polls on Friday showing him above the 50% threshold.

“It seems that there will be no winner in the first round. But our data indicates that Kilicdaroglu will lead,” said a senior official from the opposition alliance, who asked not to be named.

Citing figures from the state-owned Anadolu Agency, Turkish media said that with nearly 75% of the ballot boxes counted, Erdogan had 50.83% and Kilicdaroglu had 43.36%.

Sunday’s vote is one of the most crucial in the country’s 100-year history, a contest that could end Erdogan’s 20-year autocracy and reverberate far beyond Turkey’s borders.

The presidential election will determine not only who leads Turkey, a NATO member of 85 million people, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amid a deepening cost of living crisis, and the shape of its foreign policy.

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Parliamentary elections are being watched with interest in Western capitals, the Middle East, NATO and Moscow.

The defeat of Erdogan, one of the most important allies of President Vladimir Putin, is likely to upset the Kremlin, but it will comfort the Biden administration, as well as many European and Middle Eastern leaders who have suffered troubled relations with Erdogan.

Turkey’s longest-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, hospitals, and airports, and building a military industry sought by foreign nations.

But his capricious economic policy of low interest rates, which led to a spiraling cost of living crisis and inflation, left him prey to voter wrath. His government’s slow response to the devastating earthquake that struck southeastern Turkey, killing 50,000 people, added to voter discontent.

Kilicdaroglu has vowed to set Turkey on a new path by reviving democracy after years of state repression, returning to traditional economic policies, empowering institutions that have lost autonomy under Erdogan’s firm grip and rebuilding fraying relations with the West.

Thousands of prisoners and political activists, including high-profile names like Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Kavala, could be released if the opposition wins.

polarized politics

“I see this election as a choice between democracy and dictatorship,” said Ahmet Kalkan, 64, as he voted in Istanbul for Kilicdaroglu, echoing critics who fear Erdogan could rule more authoritarian than ever if he wins.

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“I chose democracy and I hope my country will choose democracy,” said Kalkan, a retired health sector employee.

Erdogan, 69, a veteran of dozens of electoral victories, says he respects democracy and denies being a dictator.

Mehmet Akif Kahraman, also voting in Istanbul, shows how the president still has support, and said Erdogan still represents the future even after two decades in power.

“God willing, Türkiye will be the leader of the world,” he said.

The parliamentary vote is a race between the People’s Alliance consisting of Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted party (AKP), the nationalist MHP and others, and the Kilicdaroglu-led Nation Alliance of six opposition parties, including the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) he founded in Turkey. Founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

With 62% of the ballot boxes counted, HaberTurk put Erdogan’s coalition at 52% and the opposition alliance at 33% in the parliamentary vote.

change or continuity

A powerful orator and prominent activist, Erdogan has held back everything he can during his election campaign. He commands fierce loyalty from Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkey and his political career has survived a coup attempt in 2016 and several corruption scandals.

However, if the Turks overthrow Erdogan, it will be largely because they have seen their prosperity and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation exceeding 85% in October 2022 and the collapse of the lira currency.

Erdoğan has firmly controlled most of Turkey’s institutions and the fringes of liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch said, in its World Report 2022, that Erdogan’s government has restored Turkey’s human rights record for decades.

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Kurdish voters, who make up 15-20% of the electorate, will play a vital role, and the Nation Alliance is unlikely to gain a parliamentary majority on its own.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party is not part of the main opposition alliance, but it is staunchly opposed to Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years.

Written by Alexandra Hudson Editing by Frances Kerry

Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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