ANKARA, May 15 — Turkiye appeared headed for a runoff presidential election after neither Tayyip Erdogan nor rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu cleared the threshold to win outright on Sunday, in a poll seen as a verdict on Erdogan’s 20-year rule and increasingly authoritarian path.

With almost 91 per cent of ballot boxes counted, both sides claimed to be ahead and contested the figures, warning against any premature conclusions in a deeply polarized country.

Opinion polls before the election had pointed to a very tight race but gave Kilicdaroglu, who heads a six-party alliance, a slight lead. Two polls on Friday even showed him above the 50 per cent threshold.

The presidential vote will decide not only who leads Turkiye, a Nato-member country of 85 million, but also whether it reverts to a more secular, democratic path; how it will handle its severe cost of living crisis; and manage key relations with Russia, the Middle East and the West.


According to state-owned news agency Anadolu, with almost 91 per cent of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan led with 49.86 per cent and Kilicdaroglu had 44.38 per cent.

The opposition suggested results were being published in an order that artificially boosted Erdogan’s tally.

A senior official from the opposition alliance said: “it seems there will be no winner in the first round. But, our data indicates Kilicdaroglu will lead.”


Another senior opposition official told Reuters that Erdogan’s party was raising objections against ballots, delaying full results. “So far they are doing everything in their power to delay the process,” he said.

In Ankara supporters of both sides celebrated.

A crowd outside the headquarters of Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP) held up posters of Erdogan as they sang songs and danced.

“I have been here since noon to celebrate our victory. This is our day,” said Davut, 25, raising Erdogan’s flag.

At the headquarters of Kilicdaroglu’s CHP party around a thousand people had gathered, waving flags of Turkiye’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and playing drums.

May 28 runoff

The choice of Turkiye’s next president is one of the most consequential political decisions in the country’s 100-year history and will reverberate well beyond Turkiye’s borders.

A defeat for Erdogan, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most important allies, will likely unnerve the Kremlin but comfort the Biden administration, as well as many European and Middle Eastern leaders who had troubled relations with Erdogan.

Turkiye’s longest-serving leader has turned the Nato member and Europe’s second largest country into a global player, modernized it through megaprojects such as new bridges, hospitals and airports, and built a military industry sought by foreign states.

But his volatile economic policy of low interest rates, which set off a spiralling cost of living crisis and inflation, left him prey to voters’ anger. His government’s slow response to a devastating earthquake in southeast Turkiye that killed 50,000 people added to voters’ dismay.

Kilicdaroglu has pledged to set Turkiye on a new course by reviving democracy after years of state repression, returning to orthodox economic policies, empowering institutions who lost autonomy under Erdogan’s tight grasp and rebuilding frail ties with the West.

Thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released if the opposition prevails.

Critics fear Erdogan will govern ever more autocratically if he wins. The 69-year-old president, a veteran of a dozen election victories, says he respects democracy and denies being a dictator.

A third nationalist presidential candidate, Sinan Ogan, stood at 5.3 per cent of the vote. Who he decides to endorse in the next round could be critical.

Turks are also voting for a new parliament in a contest between the People’s Alliance comprising Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AKP and the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance formed of six opposition parties, including his secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) established by Ataturk.

With 89.5 per cent of votes counted, Erdogan’s alliance looked set for a majority with 323 seats in the 600-seat parliament after results turned out far better for the ruling bloc than projected in most polls.

Erdogan commands fierce loyalty from pious Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkiye and his political career has survived an attempted coup in 2016, and corruption scandals.

However, if Turks do oust Erdogan it will be largely because they saw their prosperity and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation that topped 85 per cent in October 2022 and a collapse in the lira currency.

Erdogan has taken tight control of most of Turkiye’s institutions and sidelined liberals and critics. Human Rights Watch, in its World Report 2022, said Erdogan’s government has set back Turkiye’s human rights record by decades.

Kurdish voters, who account for 15-20 per cent of the electorate, will play a vital role, with the Nation Alliance unlikely to attain a parliamentary majority by itself. — Reuters