President Tayyip Erdogan won a comfortable victory on Monday after the first round of Turkey’s presidential elections, with the president facing an uphill battle to prevent him from extending his presidential term to 30 years in the May 28 runoff.
Turkish assets weakened on news that Erdogan fell below the 50% threshold needed to avoid sending NATO members to a second presidential election, which he sees as passing judgment on his dictatorial regime.
Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, which includes the Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist allies, is also expected to win a majority in Turkey’s new parliament with 321 seats out of 600, increasing its chances of reaching the presidential finals.
“Undoubtedly our country was the winner,” Erdogan said in a speech to cheering supporters throughout the night at the AKP headquarters in the capital, Ankara.
The chairman of the High Election Commission, Ahmet Yener, told reporters that Erdogan won 49.51 percent of the votes cast in the presidential race, while his main opposition rival Kemal Kilikdaroglu won 44.88 percent. The turnout was very high at 88.8%.
Sinan Ogan, a nationalist candidate who finished third in Sunday’s election, further bolstered Erdogan’s prospects, telling Reuters he could beat Kilicdaroglu in a runoff only if he refused to make concessions to the third-largest pro-Kurdish party in parliament. We do. He said he would. Support Ricdaroglu.
The party, the HDP, supports Kilikdaroglu, but has been accused of links with Kurdish militants.
The 2.8 million voters who supported Ohgan in the first round could be decisive for Kilikdaroglu to defeat Erdogan.
Polls showed Erdogan, 69, trailing Kilikdaroglu, but the results suggested the president and his AK Party were able to rally conservative voters despite a cost-of-living crisis and rising inflation.
Kilicdaroglu, head of a six-party coalition, has vowed to win the run-off and accused Erdogan’s party of obstructing vote counting and the reporting of results. He asked his supporters to be patient, but on Monday he was disappointed.
“We are sad and depressed about the whole situation. We expected a different outcome,” said commuter Volkan Etilgan, sitting near a ferry stop in Istanbul. “God willing, we will win the second round.”
Erdogan’s supporters, on the other hand, were happy with the filtered results, with 23-year-old cyber security engineer Piyaz Balcu convinced Erdogan could solve Turkey’s economic woes.
He said, “Erdogan winning the election is very important for all Turkish people. He is a world leader and all Turks and Muslims want Erdogan to be president.”
The prospect of five years of Erdogan’s rule will sway civil rights activists who are campaigning for reforms to repair the damage done to Turkey’s democracy. He says that he respects democracy.
If the opposition wins, thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released.
Equities fell, the lira hit its lowest level in two months, the dollar fell and the cost of providing exposure to Turkish debt rose. Analysts expressed concern over uncertainty and low prospects for a return to economic policy conservatism.
“Erdogan now has a clear psychological edge over the opposition,” said Volpango Piccoli, co-chairman of Teneo. “Erdogan will double down on the narrative focused on national security in the next two weeks.”
The election is being closely watched in Europe, in Washington, Moscow and across the region, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish power, bolstered ties with Russia and pressured Ankara’s traditional US alliance.
Erdogan remains on friendly terms with President Vladimir Putin, and his strong presence is likely to inspire the Kremlin, but it will also upset the Biden administration as well as a number of EU and European leaders who have had trouble with Erdogan.
White House spokesman John Kirby said President Joe Biden looks forward to working with whoever wins the vote. The Kremlin said it expected cooperation between Turkey and Russia to continue and deepen regardless of who wins.
Analysts have observed that following Erdogan’s appearance, Middle Eastern governments favor continuity over change and see them as part of an acceptable status quo in the troubled region.
The opposition hoped to profit from voters’ anger over the economic crisis following the lira crisis and rising inflation following unconventional low interest rates. The government’s slow response to an earthquake that claimed 50,000 lives in February was also expected to sway voters.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, has promised to revive democracy after years of state repression, return to conservative economic policies, reinvigorate institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan and rebuild fragile ties with the West.
Political uncertainty is expected to weigh heavily on the financial markets over the next two weeks. At 1348 GMT, the lira stood at 19.67 per dollar after having hit 19.70, a record high in previous trades.
It had reached a low of 19.80 in March.
According to S&P Global Market Intelligence, the cost of insuring against default in Turkey rose 105 bps from last Friday’s level to 597 bps, the highest in six month’s