President and candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his vote in the conservative Üsküdar neighborhood of Istanbul on May 14, 2023.
Turkey is preparing for a runoff election on Monday after a dramatic night in which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan trounced his secular rival Kemal Kilikdaroglu but failed to win in the first round.
“Although the results have not been published yet, we are clearly ahead,” Erdogan told a crowd of supporters gathered at midnight in Ankara.
He said, “We still don’t know if the elections have ended with this first round, but if the people take us to a second round, we will respect that.”
He said his pro-government conservative coalition had won a “majority” in parliament.
For his part, Kılıkdaroğlu assumed that a new vote would take place and promised to win the second round. “If our country calls the runoff, we will definitely win in the runoff,” he told reporters early Monday.
He said that “the desire for change in society is more than 50%.”
With 90.6% of votes counted, conservative Erdogan, 69, won 49.86% of the vote, while his rival, social democrat and secular Kilikdaroglu, 74, won 44.38%, according to state agency Anadolu.
The figures may still evolve, but for now they open the way for a second round on May 28.
A second round would be unprecedented in the country of 85 million inhabitants, which this year celebrates the 100th anniversary of the founding of its republic.
Prominent opposition figures claimed that the government was deliberately slowing down the count in districts where Kilikdaroglu had strong support.
“They are challenging the count coming from the polls, in which we have a huge lead,” Istanbul’s opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told reporters.
According to the mayor, the opposition’s internal calculations showed that Kilicdaroglu received 49% of the vote and Erdogan only 45%.
However, neither count avoids the possibility of a second round in two weeks.
– Collective Participation –
Deeply divided Turkey faces a tough race to elect the country’s 13th president after two decades in power under Erdogan.
More than 64 million people, who also elected their own parliament, were called to vote. The participation rate for this Sunday has not yet been revealed, but the country usually has over 80% participation.
In 2018, the last presidential election, Erdogan won in the first round with over 52.5% of the vote. The second round would be a blow for him.
Good humor and celebration prevailed among voters throughout the day, coinciding with Mother’s Day in Turkey.
Erdogan voted in the conservative Istanbul neighborhood of Uskudar, where he wished “a prosperous future for the country and Turkish democracy”.
The current president highlighted the “enthusiasm of voters”, especially in areas affected by the February 6 earthquake that killed at least 50,000 people.
Kilikdaroglu, the opposition candidate in Ankara, cast his vote shortly before. “We have missed democracy,” he said with a smile.
He said, referring to one of his slogans, “You will see, by the will of God, spring will return to this country and it will last forever.”
– Economic Crisis –
Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) of modern Turkey’s founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, leads a six-party coalition that spans from the nationalist right to the moderate center-left.
He also has the support of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which is the country’s third largest political force.
Erdogan promised to respect the results of the elections, which are monitored by hundreds of thousands of election observers from both sides, on whom he has always based his legitimacy.
On this occasion, the president came to vote in a country ravaged by an economic crisis that saw the currency devalued by half in two years and inflation drop to more than 85%, in addition to the dramatic earthquake in February that put him on the run. Gave. in question of judgment
His rival is committed to appeasement and promises to restore the rule of law and respect the institutions battered by Erdogan’s autocratic drift over the past ten years.
His brief, calm speeches, unlike Erdogan’s, won over a majority of the 5.2 million young Turks who voted for the first time, according to polls.
For Ahmet Incel, a political scientist exiled in Paris, “Erdogan’s defeat will show that we can get out of a consolidated autocracy through the ballot box.”
Turkey, a NATO member state, enjoys a privileged position between Europe and the Middle East and is an important diplomatic actor.