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Recep Tayyip Erdogan qualified for the second round of the presidential elections

A person holds a ballot at a polling station for parliamentary and presidential elections in Ankara, Turkey, on May 14, 2023. (Adem ALTAN / AFP)

After two decades in power, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has two more weeks to convince Turkish voters that he is the best choice to lead the country. A sinking currency, the Turkish lira, and inflation, which, according to official figures, exceeded 80% last year and was 44% last month, have eroded the value of Turks’ savings and wages. Turkey’s presidential election is heading to a runoff after incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to secure a majority of the vote. A result that sends him to fight in a new round of voting to complete the most difficult political challenge of his career. The result of yesterday’s vote set the stage for a two-week battle between Recep Erdogan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the opposition leader, on May 28. A moment that could reshape Turkey’s political landscape. With unofficial counting almost complete, Erdogan won 49.4 percent of the vote, compared to 44.8 percent for Kilicdaroglu, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency. But both sides claimed they had the upper hand. “Although the final results have not yet been shown, we are leading with many votes,” Erdogan told supporters gathered outside his party’s headquarters in Ankara, the country’s capital. Speaking at his own party’s headquarters, Kilicdaroglu said the vote would express “the will of the nation”. He said, “We are here until every vote is counted.

The claims emerged early Monday morning after an evening of battle in which each camp accused the other of spreading false information. Erdogan warned the opposition on Twitter against “usurping the national will” and called on his party faithful “not to leave the polling stations under any circumstances until the results are finalized.” Opposition politicians disputed the preliminary totals reported by the state-run Anadolu Agency, saying their own figures gathered directly from polling stations showed Kilicdaroglu in the lead, the New York Times reports. At stake is the fate of a NATO member state that has managed to unsettle many of its Western allies by maintaining warm ties with the Kremlin. One of the world’s 20 largest economies, Turkey has a range of political and economic ties that span Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East, and its domestic and foreign policies could change profoundly depending on who wins. The vote was in many ways a referendum on the performance of Erdogan, Turkey’s dominant politician for 20 years. After becoming prime minister in 2003, he ushered in a period of extraordinary economic growth that transformed Turkish cities and lifted millions of Turks out of poverty. Internationally, he was hailed as a new model of a democratic Islamist who was pro-business and wanted strong ties with the West. He faced mass protests against his governing style in 2013, and in 2016, two years after becoming president, he survived a coup attempt. Over time, he took every opportunity to marginalize his rivals and amassed more power in his hands, drawing accusations from the political opposition that he was leading the country towards autocracy. Erdogan’s failure to secure a victory in Sunday’s first round of voting confirmed a decline in his standing among voters angry at his handling of the economy and his consolidation of power. In his last election in 2018, he narrowly won against three other candidates with 53% of the vote. His closest rival got 31 percent. On Sunday, one voter, Fatma Cay, said she had supported Erdogan in the past but not this time, in part because she was angry at how expensive foods such as onions had become. However, she did not switch to Kilicdaroglu, voting instead for a third candidate, Sinan Ogan, who received about 5 percent of the vote. Eliminating Mr. Ogan could give Mr. Erdogan an advantage in the runoff, as followers of Mr. Ogan’s right-wing nationalism are more likely to favor him. Erdogan remains popular among rural, working-class, and religious voters, who credit him with developing the country, improving its international standing, and expanding the rights of devout Muslims in Turkey’s staunchly secular state. Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a former civil servant and head of Turkey’s largest opposition party, campaigned in opposition to Erdogan. Providing a contrast to Erdogan’s hardline rhetoric, Kilicdaroglu has shown campaign videos in his modest kitchen, talking about everyday issues such as the price of onions.

By Cora Sulleyman

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