ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Conservative Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan He faces a showdown with his main rival in two weeks as he plays a key role in the Middle East and NATO expansion..
A May 28 runoff will allow Turks to decide whether the authoritarian president, who is on the verge of a third decade in power, can take the democratic course promised by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, election officials said Monday..
Some voters said the poll showed how polarized Turkey has become.
“I’m not happy,” said voter Suzanne Devletsa. “I worry about the future of Turkey.”
Erdogan has faced electoral headlines over a cost-of-living crisis and criticism of the government’s response to the devastating February earthquake..
The nationalist retreat was less than predicted. But his coalition has retained its grip on parliament and is now poised to win the second round.
“On May 28, God willing, if Tayyip Erdogan lives up to expectations, he will win,” said Erdogan voter Encin Duran.
As in previous years, Erdogan led a highly divisive campaign.
He portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who has the support of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with “terrorists” and who supports “heterogeneous” LGBTQ rights.
In an attempt to woo voters hard-hit by inflation, he increased wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills, while showcasing Turkey’s domestic defense industry and infrastructure projects.
Kilicdaroglu campaigned on promises to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other democratic setbacks, as well as promises to fix an economy plagued by hyperinflation and devaluation.
But when the results came in, those elements did not sway voters as expected. Turkey’s conservative core voted overwhelmingly for the ruling party, while Kılıçdaroğlu’s main opposition won most of the coastal provinces in the west and south. The pro-Kurdish green left party, YSP, won the Kurdish-majority provinces in the southeast.
The uncertainty sent the main Turkish stock market BIST-100 down more than 6% at the open Monday, prompting a temporary halt in trading. While stocks recovered briefly during the day, the index returned to early lows near the close.
Western countries and foreign investors are particularly drawn to Erdogan’s unorthodox leadership of the economy and his often mercurial but successful efforts to put the country spanning Europe and Asia at the center of several key diplomatic negotiations..
Preliminary results showed Erdogan won 49.5% of the vote on Sunday. Kilicdaroglu got 44.9% and third candidate Sinan Ogan got 5.2%, said Ahmet Yener, head of the Supreme Election Board.
Yener said the remaining uncounted votes were not enough to carry Erdogan to an outright victory, even if they were all overturned for him. In the 2018 presidential election, Erdogan won the first round with more than 52% of the vote.
Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey as prime minister or president since 2003, portrayed Sunday’s vote as a victory for him and the country.
“The fact that the election results are not finalized does not change the fact that the nation has chosen us,” Erdogan, 69, told supporters early Monday morning.
He said he respects the country’s decision.
Kilicdaroglu sounded optimistic, tweeting at the time the runoff was announced: “Don’t despair … we will stand together and win this election.”
Kilicdaroglu, 74, and his party have lost all previous presidential and parliamentary elections since taking over in 2010, but increased their votes this time.
Ogan, a right-wing candidate, did not say who he would support if the election went to a second round. He is believed to have gained support from nationalist voters who want a change after two decades under Erdogan, but distrust the governing ability of the six-party coalition led by Kilicdaroglu.
Election results showed the coalition led by Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party would retain a majority in the 600-seat parliament, although the assembly lost its power after a vote that gave the president additional legislative powers. In 2017.
Erdogan’s AKP and its allies won 321 seats in the National Assembly, while the opposition won 213, with the remaining 66 going to a pro-Kurdish coalition, according to preliminary results.
Howard Eisenstadt, an associate professor of Middle East history and politics at St. Lawrence University in New York, said those results could give Erdogan an advantage in the runoff because voters don’t want “divided government.”
Results reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency showed Erdogan’s party dominating the earthquake-hit region, winning 10 of 11 provinces in an area that traditionally supports the president. That’s despite his government’s slow response to the 7.8-magnitude earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.
Almost 89% of eligible voters in Turkey voted and more than half of foreign voters went to the ballot box. Voting in Turkey has traditionally been strong, despite years of government crackdowns on freedom of expression and assembly, particularly after a 2016 coup attempt.
Erdogan blamed supporters of former ally cleric Fethullah Gülen for the failed coup and launched a large-scale crackdown on government officials allegedly linked to Gülen, jailing activists, journalists and pro-Kurdish politicians.
“Turkey’s democracy has proven to be remarkably resilient. The election had a high turnout and offered a real choice,” Frank Schwabe, who heads the Council of Europe’s delegation, said, however, that the country had not fulfilled “the basic principles of holding democratic elections”.
Michael George Link, special coordinator and head of the OSCE observer mission monitoring the elections, said the elections were competitive but limited.
“The criminalization of certain political forces, including the detention of many opposition politicians, prevents full political pluralism and hinders the rights of individuals to contest elections,” he explained.
Pilkinsoy reported from Istanbul. Associated Press writer Sinar Kiper contributed from Bodrum, Turkey.