Defying exit poll predictions and dashing the strong hopes of the Opposition and civil rights activists, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come within a fraction of a percentage point of winning the presidential election outright.
Since Erdogan fell short of the 50% threshold by 0.49 percentage points, a run-off will be held on May 28. However, even the Opposition seems to have accepted the obvious — many people are still with the conservative and authoritarian Turkish president who has ruled the nation for two decades.
Gandhi Kemal falls behind
“Don’t despair. We will stand up and take this election together,” 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan’s main rival who bagged 44.88% of the votes, consoled his supporters on Twitter. Kilicdaroglu is often called “Gandhi Kemal” by the Turkish media because he resembles MK Gandhi not only in appearance but also in political style.
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Kilicdaroglu’s centre-left CHP (Republican People’s Party), is Turkey’s oldest political party, established by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. And Kilicdaroglu has promised a nation struggling with sky-high inflation and Syrian refugees a more democratic path than Erdogan. Thousands of political prisoners and activists had hoped for release in case of Kilicdaroglu’s victory.
There is a nationalist third candidate in the presidential race — Sinan Ogan — who picked up 5.17% of the votes and emerged as a potential kingmaker. Ogan told Reuters in an interview that he would only endorse Kilicdaroglu in the runoff if the latter ruled out any concessions to the pro-Kurdish HDP party, which is openly supporting him.
Ogan is believed to be unconvinced by the Kilicdaroglu-led six party alliance’s ability to govern the country. Since he took leadership in 2010, Kilicdaroglu and the CHP have lost all presidential and parliamentary elections. However, its votes have increased votes this time.
A small number of overseas votes are yet to be counted, but these won’t be enough to deliver a verdict. Ahmet Yener, the head of the Supreme Electoral Board, said no one would secure a majority based on these 35,874 overseas votes.
The official turnout at Sunday’s (May 14) polls was a record 88.9%. While the country’s conservative heartland overwhelmingly voted for Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, comprising his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its nationalist partners, Kilicdaroglu’s CHP won most of the coastal provinces in the west and the south.
The pro-Kurdish Green Left Party (YSP) — of which HDP is a part — won the predominantly Kurdish provinces in the southeast. It has declared its support for Kilicdaroglu in the presidential race.
“It’s a huge disappointment,” Cengiz Candar, the newly elected YSP delegate for Diyarbakir, Turkey’s largest Kurdish-majority city, was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera. “It’s a huge defeat for all those who were for the restoration of democracy in this country. We are plunged into uncertainty and we don’t know what it will mean for us,” he added.
The People’s Alliance looked set to win a majority in Turkey’s new parliament with 321 of the 600 seats, further boosting his chances in the presidential runoff.
Impact on trade
The results pushed the main Turkish stock exchange BIST-100 more than 6% down at the open on 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. The lira touched new lows against the dollar as realisation dawned that Erdogan’s era of unconventional economics may not be over yet.
Erdogan, who has governed Turkey as either prime minister or president since 2003, has even won in regions hit by the deadly February earthquake, where people had expressed anger at the slow state response. The quakes claimed more than 50,000 lives.
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Erdogan has tweeted that the votes confirmed the nation’s trust in him. “God willing, we will have a historic win by increasing our votes from May 14 and emerging victorious on May 28 elections,” he posted.
The West was closely watching the Turkish polls, and the results have not come as good news for the Biden administration. However, the White House praised Turkey for holding a peaceful polls and said that US President Joe Biden was “looking forward to working with whoever” wins the election. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said, “We congratulate the Turkish people for expressing their desires at the ballot box in a peaceful way.”
(With agency inputs)