President Tayyip Erdogan is leading comfortably after the first round of Turkey’s presidential election, with his rival facing an uphill struggle to prevent the president extending his rule into a third decade in a runoff vote on May 28.
Turkish assets weakened on Monday with the news, which showed Erdogan only just below the 50 per cent threshold needed to avoid sending the NATO-member country to a second round of a presidential election viewed as passing judgement on his autocratic rule.
Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, comprising his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist partners, also appeared set to win a majority in Turkey’s new parliament with 321 of the 600 seats, further boosting his chances in the presidential runoff.
“The winner has undoubtedly been our country,” Erdogan said in a speech to cheering supporters at the AKP headquarters in the capital Ankara overnight.
With most votes counted in the presidential contest, Erdogan had 49.51 per cent and his main opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu 44.88 per cent, High Election Board chairman Ahmet Yener told reporters. Turnout was a very high 88.8 per cent.
Further boosting Erdogan’s prospects, nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan, who placed third in Sunday’s election, told Reuters in an interview he would only endorse Kilicdaroglu in the runoff if the latter ruled out any concessions to a pro-Kurdish party, parliament’s third largest.
That party, the HDP, backs Kilicdaroglu but is accused of ties to Kurdish militants, which it denies.
The 2.8 million voters who backed Ogan in the first round could prove crucial for Kilicdaroglu if he is to defeat Erdogan.
Opinion polls had shown Erdogan, 69, trailing Kilicdaroglu, but the outcome suggested that the president and his AK Party were able to rally conservative voters despite a cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation.
Kilicdaroglu, head of a six-party alliance, vowed to prevail in the runoff and accused Erdogan’s party of interfering with the counting and reporting of results. He called on his supporters to be patient, but they were downcast on Monday.
“We are sad, we are depressed about the whole situation. We expected different results,” said commuter Volkan Atilgan as he sat near a ferry station in Istanbul. “God willing, we will win this victory in the second round.”
By contrast, Erdogan supporters were jubilant as the results filtered out, with cyber security engineer Feyyaz Balcu, 23, confident that Erdogan could fix Turkey’s economic woes.
“It is very important for all Turkish people that Erdogan wins the elections. He is a world leader and all the Turks and Muslims want Erdogan as president,” he said.
The prospect of five more years of Erdogan’s rule will upset civil rights activists campaigning for reforms to undo the damage they say he has done to Turkey’s democracy. He says he respects democracy.
Thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released if the opposition prevails.
Stocks fell, the lira was near a two-month low, sovereign dollar bonds fell and the cost of insuring exposure to Turkey’s debt spiked. Analysts voiced concern about the uncertainty and diminishing prospects of a return to economic policy orthodoxy.
“Erdogan has now a clear psychological lead against the opposition,” said Teneo co-president Wolfango Piccoli. “Erdogan will likely double down on his national security focused narratives over the next two weeks.”
The election has been closely watched in Europe, Washington, Moscow, and across the region, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish power while strengthening ties to Russia and putting strain on Ankara’s traditional alliance with the United States.
Erdogan has cordial relations with President Vladimir Putin and his strong showing is likely to encourage the Kremlin but unnerve the Biden administration, as well as many European and leaders who had troubled ties with Erdogan.