ISTANBUL — Turkey’s strongman President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faced the toughest challenge in his 20-year sway to power as preliminary results showed he narrowly failed to secure a victory majority for a third term in Sunday’s elections.
A second round with his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, co-candidate of an alliance of opposition parties, will take place on May 28. Sinan Oğan, who ran as an independent, placed third.
Turkey’s official Anadolu news agency reported on Monday that Erdogan won 49.35% of the vote while Kilicdaroglu won 45.00%. Ogan had a 5.22% performance, he said.
Erdogan has said he welcomes a runoff if that is what the electorate wants.
He also expressed pride in what he called record attendance. “Turkey has once again proven that it is one of the leading democracies in the world,” the president said at his party’s headquarters.
The second round of the centenary year of the Turkish Republic comes after some of the most contested presidential and legislative elections in recent times.
Outside Turkey, the results will reverberate after the NATO member maintained close ties with Russia and blocked Sweden’s membership of the defense alliance. It remains to be seen what the results mean regionally as well, as Turkey’s influence grows among its neighbors and the wider Muslim world.
For around 5 million new voters who have never known another leader, the election was an opportunity for change in a country where Erdogan’s AK party has been in power since 2002. Erdogan, 69 , became prime minister the following year and began serving as president. in 2014.
More than 64 million people, including 3.4 million foreign voters, were eligible to vote in the elections and turnout, in a country where it has traditionally been high, was high.
Harun Armagan, a member of the AKP party’s Central Decision-Making Council, said on Sunday evening that the results bode well for Erdogan.
“We can clearly see that this is a solid victory for President Erdogan and the AKP party,” he said. “It’s a night of victory for the millions of AKP party supporters in Turkey.”
Before the election, the atmosphere was good in Istanbul.
“I just voted and I’m waiting for the results,” Banu Yilmaz, 60, a retired banker, told NBC News. “We hope that this time something will change in our country. Because now I think people are more aware,” added retired pharmacist Zafer Özi, 81.
The elections came as Turkey is still reeling from the fallout from two massive earthquakes in February that devastated 11 southern provinces and claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its response to the disaster as well as the lax implementation of building codes which has exacerbated misery.
A sluggish economy, which critics have accused the government of mismanaging, and a steep cost-of-living crisis also topped the agenda, along with a backlash against millions of Syrian refugees, ahead of the vote.
Erdogan has raised salaries and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills in a bid to woo voters, while waging a divisive campaign that has seen him accuse the opposition of being “drunkards” of connivance with “terrorists”. He also attacked naysayers for standing up for LGBTQ rights, which he said posed a threat to traditional family values.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, who has led the secular, centre-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010, has pledged to reverse Erdogan’s policies and restore democracy.
A starkly different figure from Erdogan, who is known for his bombastic speeches, he is soft-spoken and has built a reputation as a bridge-builder. During the campaign, he recorded videos in his kitchen in an effort to speak to voters.
His six-party national alliance has promised to dismantle the executive presidential system that was narrowly voted for in a 2017 referendum. Erdogan has since centralized power in a 1,000-room palace on the outskirts of Ankara, and it is from hence Turkey’s economic, security, domestic and international policies were formulated.
In addition to returning the country to parliamentary democracy, Kilicdaroglu and the alliance pledged to establish the independence of the judiciary and central bank, institute checks and balances, and reverse democratic backsliding and repression. freedom of expression and dissent under Erdogan.
The alliance includes the nationalist Good Party led by former interior minister Meral Aksener and two parties that split from Erdogan’s AK party and are led by former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu and former minister Finance Ali Babacan.
Sinan Ogan, a former academic backed by an anti-immigrant nationalist party, was also a presidential candidate. Another candidate, centre-left politician Muharrem Ince quit the race on Thursday after his ratings dropped significantly but his withdrawal was ruled invalid by the country’s electoral board and the votes for him will be counted.
Neyran Elden reported from Istanbul and Henry Austin from London.