Turkey is headed for a runoff presidential vote after President Tayyip Erdogan outperformed projections in the national election as he sought to extend his two-decade rule, holding a sizeable lead over his rival but falling short of an outright majority.

Neither Erdogan nor rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu cleared the 50 per cent threshold needed to avoid a second round, to be held on May 28, in an election seen as a verdict on Erdogan’s increasingly authoritarian path.

The presidential vote will decide not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member country of 85 million, but also whether it reverts to a more secular, democratic path; how it will handle its severe cost of living crisis and manage key relations with Russia, the Middle East and the West.

Kilicdaroglu, who said he would prevail in the runoff, urged his supporters to be patient and accused Erdogan’s party of interfering with the counting and reporting of results.

But Erdogan performed better on Sunday than pre-election polls had predicted, and he appeared in a confident and combative mood as he addressed his flag-waving, cheering supporters.

“We are already ahead of our closest rival by 2.6 million votes. We expect this figure to increase with official results,” Erdogan said.

With almost 97 per cent of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan led with 49.39 per cent of votes and Kilicdaroglu had 44.92 per cent, according to state-owned news agency Anadolu.

Turkey’s High Election Board gave Erdogan 49.49 per cent with 91.93 per cent of ballot boxes counted.

The results reflected deep polarisation in a country at a political crossroads. The vote was set to hand Erdogan’s ruling alliance a majority in parliament, giving him a potential edge heading into the runoff.

Opinion polls before the election had pointed to a very tight race but gave Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party alliance, a slight lead.

Kilicdaroglu, in an earlier appearance, said that Erdogan’s party was “destroying the will of Turkey” by objecting to the counts of more than 1000 ballot boxes.

Meanwhile, supporters of both sides celebrated.

Thousands of Erdogan voters converged on the party’s headquarters in Ankara, blasting party songs from loudspeakers and waving flags and Erdogan posters. Some danced in the street.

At Kilicdaroglu’s CHP party headquarters, supporters waved flags of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and beat drums.

The choice of Turkey’s next president is one of the most consequential political decisions in the country’s 100-year history and will reverberate well beyond Turkey’s borders.

A victory for Erdogan, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most important allies, will likely cheer the Kremlin but unnerve the Biden administration, as well as many European and Middle Eastern leaders who had troubled relations with Erdogan.

Turkey’s longest-serving leader has turned the NATO member and Europe’s second-largest country into a global player, modernised it through mega-projects such as new bridges and airports and built an arms industry sought by foreign states.

But his volatile economic policy of low interest rates, which set off a spiralling cost of living crisis and inflation, left him prey to voters’ anger.

His government’s slow response to a devastating earthquake in southeast Turkey that killed 50,000 people earlier this year added to voters’ dismay.

Kilicdaroglu has pledged to revive democracy after years of state repression, return to orthodox economic policies, empower institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan and rebuild frail ties with the West.

Source: AAP