Turkey faces election run-off, Erdogan seen with momentum

ANKARA – Mr Tayyip Erdogan led comfortably on Monday after the first round of Turkey’s presidential election, with his rival facing an uphill struggle to prevent the president extending his rule into a third decade in a run-off vote on May 28.

Turkish assets weakened on the news, which showed Mr Erdogan just below the 50 per cent threshold needed to avoid sending the Nato-member country to a second round of a presidential election viewed as passing judgment on his autocratic rule.

Mr Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, comprising his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist partners, also appeared set to win a majority in the new parliament with 321 of the 600 seats, further boosting his chances in the presidential run-off.

“The winner has undoubtedly been our country,” Mr Erdogan said in a speech to cheering supporters at the AKP headquarters in the capital Ankara overnight.

With 99 per cent of ballot boxes counted in the presidential vote, Mr Erdogan led with 49.4 per cent and his main opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu had 44.96 per cent, High Election Board chairman Ahmet Yener told reporters. Turnout was a very high 88.8 per cent.

Further boosting Mr Erdogan’s hopes, nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan, who placed third in Sunday’s election, told Reuters in an interview on Monday he would only endorse Mr Kilicdaroglu in the run-off if the latter ruled out any concessions to a pro-Kurdish party, parliament’s third largest.

That party backs Mr Kilicdaroglu but is accused of ties to Kurdish militants, which it denies.

The 2.8 million voters who backed Mr Ogan in the first round will be crucial for Mr Kilicdaroglu if he is to defeat Mr Erdogan.

Opinion polls had shown Mr Erdogan trailing Mr Kilicdaroglu, but the outcome suggested that the president and his AK Party were able to rally conservative voters despite a cost-of-living crisis and soaring inflation.

Mr Kilicdaroglu, head of a six-party alliance, vowed to prevail in the runoff and accused Erdogan’s party of interfering with the counting and reporting of results. He called on his supporters to be patient, but they were downcast on Monday.

“We are sad, we are depressed about the whole situation. We expected different results,” said commuter Volkan Atilgan as he sat near a ferry station in Istanbul.

“God willing, we will win this victory in the second round.”

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