Turkey’s presidential election appears headed for a runoff on Sunday as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to win a majority.
The vote set the stage for a two-week battle between Prime Minister Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilikdaloglu.
According to the state-run Anadolu news agency, with unofficial vote counting almost complete, Erdogan won 49.4% of the vote to Prime Minister Kilikdaroglu’s 44.8%.
However, both sides insisted that they were ahead.
“The final result has not come yet, but we are very far ahead,” Erdogan told supporters gathered outside the party’s headquarters in the capital, Ankara.
Speaking at his party’s headquarters, Kilicdaroglu said the vote would express “the will of the country”. “We are here till all the votes are counted.
The competing claims came to a head in the early hours of Monday, when a thorny evening ensued with each faction accusing the other of publishing misleading information. Prime Minister Erdogan took to Twitter to warn the opposition against “eliminating the national will” and urged the parties “at all costs not to leave the polling station until the finalization of the results”.
Opposition politicians disputed the initial totals reported by Anadolu, saying that their own figures were collected directly from polling stations, which Kılıçdaroğlu heads.
At stake is the path of NATO members who have discouraged many Western allies by maintaining cozy ties with the Kremlin. As one of the world’s 20 largest economies, Turkey has a range of political and economic ties spanning Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, and Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies depend on who wins. Is.
The vote was in many ways a referendum on the performance of Mr Erdogan, Turkey’s leading politician for 20 years.
After becoming prime minister in 2003, he oversaw a period of tremendous economic growth that transformed Turkey’s cities and lifted millions of Turks out of poverty. Internationally, he was hailed as a new model for a pro-business, democratic Islamist who wanted stronger ties with the West.
But over the past decade, criticism of Mr. Erdogan has grown both at home and abroad. He faced massive protests over his way of governing in 2013 and narrowly avoided an attempted coup in 2016, two years after becoming president. In the process, he seized the opportunity to sideline his rivals and wield more power, prompting accusations from the political opposition that he was plunging the country into a dictatorship.
Official figures since 2018 show that currency depreciation and inflation, which hit above 80% last year and 44% last month, have eroded the value of Turkey’s savings and salaries.
President Erdogan’s failure to win in Sunday’s first round of voting confirmed a decline in his standing among voters angered by his economic responsibilities and consolidation of power. In his last election in 2018, he won 53% of the vote, defeating three other candidates. His closest challenger got 31%.
On Sunday, one voter, Fatma Kay, said she had supported Mr Erdogan in the past but not this time.
“He forgot where he came from,” said 70-year-old Kay.
Nonetheless, they did not vote against Mr. Kilicdaroglu, but instead voted for the third candidate, Sinan Ogan, who won about 5% of the vote. Mr. Ogan’s elimination could give Mr. Erdogan an edge in the finals. Because Mr. Ogan’s right-wing nationalist followers are more likely to be on his side.
Mr Erdogan is popular among rural, working-class and religious voters, who recognize him for leading the country from Turkey’s hardline secular state, raising his international profile and expanding rights for devout Muslims.
“We love Erdogan,” said retiree Halil Karslan. “They built everything: roads, bridges, drones. People are comfortable and peaceful.
Karaslan said this is more important than rising prices. There is no economic crisis,” he said. “Of course, things are expensive, but the salaries are almost the same. It creates a balance.
Capitalizing on voter discontent, a coalition of six opposition parties challenged Erdogan and supported co-candidate Kilikdaroglu.
Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant who ran Turkey’s social security agency before leading Turkey’s largest opposition, campaigned against Mr Erdogan. In contrast to Erdogan’s tough rhetoric, Kilikdaroglu shot campaign videos in his humble kitchen talking about everyday issues. es is equal to the price of an onion.
A vote also took place on Sunday to determine the composition of the 600-member Turkish parliament, but results for those seats were not expected until Monday. Parliament lost significant powers as the country switched to a presidential system in 2017 following a referendum supported by Prime Minister Erdogan. Opposition parties have vowed to return the country to a parliamentary system.
Adding to the importance of these elections for many Turks is that 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the republic after the fall of the Ottoman Empire. A national celebration is scheduled for the anniversary on 29 October, presided over by the President.
The election was also motivated by an issue that has long polarized Turkish society, such as the proper place of religion in a country committed to strict secularism. During his 11 years as prime minister and 9 years as president, Erdogan expanded religious education and relaxed rules restricting religious dress.
Derya Akka, 29, said she wanted to cover her head as the main reason she supported Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. Akka, who works in a clothing store in Istanbul, said: “They protect my freedom to wear a scarf, which is the most important element for me.”
She now regrets leaving school because a college professor humiliated her in front of her class because she was too embarrassed. “I felt like an outsider,” she said. “Now I wish I had stayed and fought.”
But elsewhere in town Deniz Deniz, co-owner of a bar popular with the city’s L.G.B.T.Q. The community lamented how the number of such facilities has declined over the past decade during President Erdogan’s tenure.
“I want to change a lot of things,” he said. “I want a country where LGBT+ and women are not rejected. We want an equal and democratic country.”
In southern Turkey, which was hit by a powerful earthquake in February that killed more than 50,000 people, many voters expressed their anger at the government’s response at the ballot box.
“The earthquake happened and the government didn’t even intervene,” said Rasim Dayanir, an earthquake survivor who voted for Kilikdaroglu. “But our brains were made before the earthquake.”
Dayanir, 25, had fled the city of Antakya, largely destroyed by the quake, but returned on Sunday to vote with his family of eight.
He stood among hundreds of voters to vote inside a primary school. Others voted in shipping containers set up to replace destroyed polling places. Mr Dayanir said his uncle, aunt and other family members were killed in the quake.
He said, ‘We are hopeful. “We believe in change.”