ANKARA, Turkey – On Sunday, Turkey’s presidential election appeared headed for a runoff after the incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, failed to win a majority of votes, an outcome that left the Turkish leader struggling to fend off his toughest political challenge. Professional life.
The result of the vote set the stage for a two-week battle between Mr. Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, to secure victory in a May 28 run-off that could reshape Turkey’s political landscape.
With the unofficial count nearing its end, Erdogan won 49.4% of the vote to Mr Kilicdaroglu’s 44.8%, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.
But both sides claimed to be advancing.
“Although the final results are not yet in, we are far ahead,” Erdogan told supporters gathered outside his party’s headquarters in the capital, Ankara.
Speaking at his party headquarters, Mr Kilicdaroglu said the vote would express “the will of the nation”. “We are here until every vote is counted,” he said.
The competing allegations came early Monday after a disturbing evening in which each camp accused the other of advertising disinformation. Erdogan warned the opposition on Twitter against “usurping the national will” and called on the faithful in his party to “not leave the polling stations, whatever happens, until the results are finished.”
Opposition politicians disputed the raw numbers reported by Anadolu Agency, saying that figures collected directly from polling stations showed Kilicdaroglu in the lead.
At stake is the path of a NATO member who has managed to unsettle many of his Western allies by maintaining warm relations with the Kremlin. Turkey is one of the 20 largest economies in the world, and enjoys a range of political and economic ties that stretch across Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and its domestic and foreign policies can change dramatically depending on who wins.
After becoming prime minister in 2003, he presided over a period of explosive economic growth that transformed Turkish cities and lifted millions of Turks out of poverty. Internationally, he was hailed as a new paradigm for a democratic Islamist, who was pro-business and wanted strong ties with the West.
But over the past decade, Erdogan’s critics at home and abroad have grown stronger. He faced mass protests against his style of governance in 2013, and in 2016, two years after becoming president, he survived a coup attempt. Along the way, he seized opportunities to marginalize rivals and collect more power in his own hands, drawing accusations from the political opposition that he was turning the country into an autocracy.
Since 2018, the currency drop and inflation, which official figures say exceeded 80 percent last year and reached 44 percent last month, have eroded the value of Turks’ savings and salaries.
Mr. Erdogan’s inability to secure a victory in the first round of voting on Sunday underlined his decline among voters angry at his leadership of the economy and his consolidation of power. In his last election, in 2018, he won outright against three other candidates with 53 percent of the vote. His closest competitor got 31 percent.
One voter, Fatima Kay, She said she had supported Mr. Erdogan in the past but did not this time, in part because she was angry about the high price of foodstuffs such as onions.
“He forgot where he came from,” said Ms. Kay, 70. “This nation can lift someone up, but we also know how to bring someone down.”
However, she did not switch to Mr Kilicdaroglu, and instead voted for a third candidate, Sinan Ogan, who received about 5 percent of the vote. Removing Mr. Ogan could give Mr. Erdogan an edge in the runoff, where he is likely to be favored by Mr. Ogan’s right-wing nationalists.
Mr. Erdogan remains popular with rural, working-class and religious voters, who credit him with developing the country, strengthening its international standing and expanding the rights of religious Muslims in Turkey’s staunchly secular state.
“We just love Erdogan,” said Halil Karaslan, a retiree. He built everything: roads, bridges, drones. People feel relaxed and at peace.”
This is more important than the price hike, Mr. Karaslan said. “There is no economic crisis,” he said. Sure, things are expensive, but the salaries are almost as high. It balances out.”
Seeking to capitalize on voter frustration, a coalition of six opposition parties has come together to challenge Mr. Erdogan and support the joint candidate, Mr. Kilicdaroglu.
Mr Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant who ran Turkey’s social security administration before leading Turkey’s largest opposition party, has campaigned in contrast to Mr Erdogan. In contrast to Mr. Erdogan’s hardline rhetoric, Mr. Kilicdaroglu shot campaign videos in his humble kitchen, talking about everyday issues such as the price of onions.
A vote was also held Sunday to determine the make-up of Turkey’s 600-member parliament, although results for those seats were not expected until Monday. Parliament lost significant power when the country changed to a presidential system after a referendum backed by Mr. Erdogan in 2017. The opposition has vowed to return the country to a parliamentary system.
Adding to the significance of this election for many Turks is that 2023 marks the centenary of the country’s founding as a republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. A national celebration is scheduled for the anniversary, on Oct. 29, and will be chaired by the president.
The election was also driven by issues that have long polarized Turkish society, such as the proper place for religion in a country committed to strict secularism. During his 11 years as prime minister and nine years as president, Mr. Erdogan expanded religious education and eased rules that restricted religious dress.
Derya Akka, 29, cited her desire to cover her hair as a primary reason for her support for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. “They are defending my freedom to wear a headscarf, which is the most important factor for me,” said Ms. Akka, who works in a clothing store in Istanbul.
She recalled being so embarrassed after a college professor insulted her in front of the class that she dropped out, a decision she now regrets. “I felt like an outsider,” she said. “Now I hope I stayed and fought.”
But elsewhere in town, Deniz Deniz, co-owner of a bar popular with the city’s LGBTQ community, laments the shrinking number of such establishments in the past decade of Mr Erdogan’s tenure.
They said “I want a lot to change”. “I want a country where gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and women are not rejected. I want a democratic country where equality prevails.”
In the southern region of Turkey, which was devastated by powerful earthquakes in February that killed more than 50,000 people, many voters expressed anger at the government’s response at the polls.
“We had an earthquake and the government didn’t even intervene,” said Rasem Dayanir, an earthquake survivor who voted for Mr Kilicdaroglu. “But our minds were made up before the earthquake.”
Dayaner, 25, had fled the city of Antakya, which was largely destroyed in the quake, but returned with eight family members to vote on Sunday.
He stood among hundreds of voters who lined up to vote inside an elementary school. Others cast their ballots in shipping containers constructed to replace destroyed polling stations. Dianer said his uncle, aunt and other family members were killed in the quake.
He said, “We are optimistic.” “We believe in change.”
Ben Hubbard Reported from Ankara, and Jolsyn Harman from Istanbul. Contribute to the preparation of reports Elif Innes from istanbul, She saw the east from Ankara and Kerak names from Antakya.