Recep Tayyip Erdogan led comfortably on Monday 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 the news, which showed Erdogan 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 judgment 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 the new parliament with 321 of the 600 seats, further boosting his chances in the 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 99 per cent of ballot boxes counted in the presidential vote, Erdogan led with 49.4 and his main opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu had 44.96 per cent, High Election Board chairman Ahmet Yener told reporters. Turnout was a very high 88.8 per cent.
Further boosting Erdogan’s hopes, nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan, who placed third in Sunday’s election, said 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 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 will be crucial for Kilicdaroglu if he is to defeat Erdogan.
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Opinion polls had shown Erdogan 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.
“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.