LONDON – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan faces a run-off election in two weeks after failing to secure an absolute majority in his country’s general elections on Sunday.
But although Mr Erdogan’s latest electoral performance was his worst in over two decades in power, the veteran Turkish leader seems set to cling to power.
According to the Turkish constitution, a president is elected outright only if he gains over half of the popular vote.
With almost all the votes from Sunday’s ballots now counted, Mr Erdogan secured 49.34 per cent of the popular vote, while Mr Kemal Kilicdaroglu – the candidate of the largest opposition alliance – got 45 per cent.
Mr Sinan Ogan, a hitherto little-known far-right candidate, came a distant third with 5.23 per cent.
President Erdogan knew he risked a tough battle in deciding to call the elections sooner than he had to.
The Turkish economy is ailing, with annual inflation hovering at around 40 per cent.
The President and his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) are also blamed for severe mistakes while handling the aftermath of Turkey’s devastating February earthquake, in which at least 50,000 people perished.
The electorate duly expressed its dissatisfaction. For the first time since he became president, Mr Erdogan was forced into a second electoral round. And the AKP’s score was its worst in decades.
Still, neither setback is enough to end Mr Erdogan’s grip over the 85 million-strong nation.
With an estimated 2.6 million-vote lead over his primary challenger, Mr Erdogan fared significantly better than most polls predicted. More than 26 million Turks have once again placed their trust in the President.
And although the opposition, which consists of a coalition of six disparate parties, has claimed irregularities during both the electoral campaign and the vote counting, there is little doubt that the overall result, based on a very high turnout of 88 per cent, broadly represents the will of the electorate.
The regional distribution of votes shows the usual pattern in Turkey.
Mr Kilicdaroglu, the mild-mannered 74-year-old former civil servant who is the standard-bearer of Turkey’s largely secular opposition, won majority votes in most big cities such as Istanbul and Izmir.
He also won the support of the Kurds, by far Turkey’s most significant minority, accounting for around 15 per cent of the population. In some Kurdish areas, four out of five voters cast their ballots for Mr Kilicdaroglu.
Meanwhile, President Erdogan, 69, dominated Turkey’s agricultural hinterland and the Black Sea coast.
The only surprise was that in the provinces stricken by the recent earthquake, Mr Erdogan’s support held steady and even increased.
In the city of Kahramanmaraş, for instance, the epicentre of the first quake on Feb 6, Mr Erdogan scored one of his best national results.
Opposition leader Kilicdaroglu claims he can win the second ballot, now slated for May 28.
But while this is theoretically possible, it remains a tall order because President Erdogan enjoys a significant inbuilt advantage.
Mr Ogan, the third candidate now eliminated from the running, is a former ally of the President and shares many of Mr Erdogan’s political views.
Although Mr Ogan now claims to be “considering” the guidance he will offer his supporters for the second round of the ballots, there is little doubt that the bulk of the 5 per cent of the electorate that supported Mr Ogan will go to Mr Erdogan, more than enough to see the incumbent president re-elected.
The balance of power in the new Parliament – which was also up for elections on Sunday – further strengthens Mr Erdogan’s hand, despite the President’s ruling AKP losing a lot of votes at the polls.
The party’s share of the ballots declined from 42.5 per cent in the previous elections held in 2018 to around 35 per cent now.
Still, the AKP remains by far the most potent single force. In alliance with smaller movements such as the Islamist Welfare Party, it will hold a relatively comfortable majority with an expected 321 of the 600 MPs.
The argument that the same forces should lead the executive presidency and Parliament and that Mr Erdogan is, therefore, the right man to head the state is likely to persuade many voters in the second round.
Still, the coming two weeks will be tense, with the opposition’s main hope of regaining the upper hand largely dependent on maintaining its support base and increasing voter participation beyond the 88 per cent of the electorate that turned out on Sunday.
Reacting to President Erdogan’s triumphant victory speech from the balcony of the ruling party’s headquarters in the Turkish capital of Ankara early on Monday, Mr Kilicdaroglu remained upbeat.
“We are going to win,” he reassured supporters. “You don’t win power from the top of a balcony.”