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Turkish Presidential Election Heads for Runoff


Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gather in Istanbul, Turkey, May 14, 2023.
Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gather in Istanbul, Turkey, May 14, 2023.

Turkey heads to a presidential runoff election after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan led the first round of voting, beating expectations but falling short of the 50% threshold needed to win outright.

Erdogan told supporters in Ankara, "The winner has undoubtedly been our country," and expressed confidence that he would prevail in the runoff, while top rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu said he would "absolutely win the second round."

With most ballots counted Monday, Erdogan led with 49.5% of votes and Kilicdaroglu had 45%, said Ahmet Yener, head of the Supreme Electoral Board. He told reporters that third party candidate Sinan Ogan received 5.2% of the vote.

Momentum Shifts Toward Erdogan as Turkey Heads to Presidential Runoff
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Yener said the remaining uncounted votes would not be enough for Erdogan to reach the 50% threshold, even if they all broke in his favor. A runoff election is set for May 28.

More than 64 million people, including overseas voters, were eligible to vote Sunday, and turnout was extremely high at 88.8%.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen congratulated Turkish voters on their large turnout.

"It's a very clear sign that the Turkish people are committed to exercising their democratic rights to go and vote and that they value the democratic institutions," von der Leyen said.

Ahead of Sunday's election, Kilicdaroglu was widely tipped as the frontrunner in many opinion polls.

After the runoff election was announced Monday, he urged his supporters to stay hopeful.

"Do not fall into despair. ... We will stand up and win this election together," he posted on Twitter.

Voters on Sunday also cast ballots in parliamentary elections.

Erdogan's People's Alliance, which includes his AK Party along with its allies, appeared set to win the parliamentary vote, securing 322 out of 600 seats in the National Assembly.

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Reaction from voters to Sunday's election was mixed.

In Istanbul's Uskudar district, Ismail, who asked to be identified by only his first name, told VOA he's still coming to terms with Sunday's vote.

"We didn't expect it, and frankly, we were very hopeful that there would be a change, but again nothing has changed,” he said. “So, we are shocked. I don't want to believe in the result."

His friend, Cem, said he was not surprised by the outcome of the vote.

"There is not much to be surprised about; the strongest one won again! I mean, the big fish swallowed the small fish again; it's as simple as that," he said.

Both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu had claimed the election would be the most important in the country's history.

With inflation at more than 40% and people experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, the economy was seen as the most crucial issue for many voters.

Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years and is the country's longest-serving leader, has turned the government into a powerful executive presidency that allows him to rule by decree.

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Critics blamed such centralized powers for failing to react swiftly to February's deadly earthquakes that claimed more than 50,000 lives in Turkey and Syria, a charge Erdogan denies.

Kilicdaroglu is pledging to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy.

Erdogan insists his executive powers are vital, given that the country is in a neighborhood of turmoil.

In his last campaign speech Friday, Erdogan accused U.S. President Joe Biden of trying to oust him from power through the elections.

Washington has said it does not take sides in elections.

On Monday, White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said Biden is looking forward to working with the winner of the Turkish election, whoever it is.

"We congratulate the Turkish people for expressing their desires at the ballot box in a peaceful way," Kirby said in an online briefing.

Relations between Turkey and its traditional Western allies have become strained in recent years over Ankara's deepening ties with Moscow and concerns over democracy.

Kilicdaroglu is vowing a reset with Turkey's Western allies.

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.