ANKARA, (MANEND NEWS): President Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents face an uphill struggle to end his two-decade rule of Turkey in a runoff vote on May 28 after he performed better than predicted in a first round of voting on Sunday but fell short of an outright majority.
Turks woke on Monday to see support for Erdogan just below the 50% threshold needed to avoid sending the NATO-member country to a second round of a presidential election viewed as passing judgement on his rule.
Pro-government media cheered the outcome, with Yeni Safak newspaper proclaiming “The people won”, referring to Erdogan’s People’s Alliance that appeared to have won a majority in parliament, potentially giving him a crucial edge in the presidential runoff.
“The winner has undoubtedly been our country,” Erdogan said in a speech to his cheering supporters at the headquarters of his ruling AK Party in the capital Ankara overnight.
Going into the election, the opposition had sensed its best chance yet of unseating Erdogan, encouraged by polls showing him trailing his main challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu. But the results suggested Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party had been able to rally conservative voters despite a cost-of-living crisis.
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, calling on his supporters in the country of 84 million to be patient.
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 is one of President Vladimir Putin’s main allies and his strong showing is likely to encourage the Kremlin but unnerve the Biden administration, as well as many European and Middle Eastern leaders who had troubled relations with Erdogan.
With 99% of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan led with 49.35 of votes and Kilicdaroglu on 45.0%, according to state-owned news agency Anadolu. Election turnout was a very high 88.8%.
A third candidate, the nationalist Sinan Ogan took some 5.2% of the vote and analysts said he could play a “kingmaker” role in the runoff if he decides to endorse one of the two.
Galip Dalay, associate fellow at Chatham House, said Erdogan’s ruling alliance would go into the second round “with numeric and psychological advantages.”
“During the campaign period ahead of the runoff, President Erdogan is likely to emphasise stability as he already retains the majority in the parliament,” Dalay said.
Turkey’s longest-serving leader has turned the country into a global player, transforming it with huge infrastructure projects such as airports and bridges and building a defence industry attracting many foreign customers.