By Spy Uganda Correspondent
Conservative Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a runoff with his main rival in two weeks that will decide who leads a country struggling with sky-high inflation and hosting Syrian refugees as it plays a key role in the Middle East and in NATO expansion.
Election officials said Monday that the May 28 second round will allow Turks to decide if their nation remains under the increasingly authoritarian president’s firm grip for a third decade, or if it can embark on the more democratic course promised by Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
The vote shows how Turkey has become extremely polarized, some voters commented.
“I am not happy at all,” voter Suzan Devletsah said. “I worry about the future of Turkey.”
Erdogan faced electoral headwinds due to a cost-of-living crisis and criticism over the government’s response to a devastating February earthquake.
The nationalist’s retreat was still less marked than predicted. But with his alliance retaining its hold on the parliament, he is now in a good position to win in the second round.
“On May 28, God willing, if Tayyip Erdogan fulfills expectations, he will win,” Erdogan voter Engin Duran said.
As in previous years, Erdogan led a highly divisive campaign.
He portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who had received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, of colluding with “terrorists” and of supporting what he called “deviant” LGBTQ rights.
In a bid to woo voters hit hard by inflation, he increased wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills, while showcasing Turkey’s homegrown defense industry and infrastructure projects.
Kilicdaroglu campaigned on promises to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other forms of democratic backsliding, as well as to repair an economy battered by high inflation and currency devaluation.
But as the results came in, it appeared those elements didn’t shake up the electorate as expected. Turkey’s conservative heartland overwhelmingly voted for the ruling party, with Kilicdaroglu’s main opposition winning most of the coastal provinces in the west and south. The pro-Kurdish Green Left Party, YSP, won the predominantly Kurdish provinces in the southeast.
The uncertainty drove the main Turkish stock exchange BIST-100 more than 6% lower at the open Monday, prompting a temporary halt in trading. Though shares recovered briefly during the day, the index was back to the initial lows near closing time.
Western nations and foreign investors were particularly interested in the outcome because of Erdogan’s unorthodox leadership of the economy and often mercurial but successful efforts to put the country that spans Europe and Asia at the center of many major diplomatic negotiations.
Preliminary results showed that Erdogan won 49.5% of the vote on Sunday, while Kilicdaroglu grabbed 44.9%, and the third candidate, Sinan Ogan, received 5.2%, according to Ahmet Yener, the head of Supreme Electoral Board.
The remaining uncounted votes were not enough to tip Erdogan into outright victory, even if they all broke for him, Yener said. In the last presidential election in 2018, Erdogan won in the first round, with more than 52% of the vote.
Even as it became clear a runoff was likely, Erdogan, who has governed Turkey as either prime minister or president since 2003, painted Sunday’s vote as a victory both for himself and the country.
“That the election results have not been finalized doesn’t change the fact that the nation has chosen us,” Erdogan, 69, told supporters in the early hours of Monday.
He said he would respect the nation’s decision.