ANKARA, Türkiye — Preliminary, unofficial results from Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency showed incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leading with 76% of ballots counted, while a competing news agency gave a slight lead to the opposition candidate in a presidential run-off that will decide whether the country’s longtime leader extends his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade.
Anadolu showed Erdogan at 54% and his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, at 46%.
For its part, the ANKA press agency, close to the opposition, showed results at 51% for Kilicdaroglu and Erdogan at 49%, with 75% of the ballot boxes stripped.
The result could have implications far beyond Ankara. Turkey is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and plays a key role within NATO.
Erdogan’s government vetoed Sweden’s offer to join NATO and bought Russian missile defense systems, prompting the United States to oust Turkey from a planned US-led fighter jet. But it also helped broker a crucial deal that enabled Ukrainian grain shipments and averted a global food crisis.
Divergent early results were also reported in the May 14 elections. Competing news organizations get their data from ballot counts conducted by field staff and are strong in different regions, which explains some of the variation in preliminary data.
Anadolus’ figures were disputed in the May 14 first round of elections by opposition politicians, who said the news agency was biased in favor of Erdogan. Anadolu dismissed the charge and the final results showed no discrepancy. Erdogan came out more than 4% ahead of Kilicdaroglu, but just short of outright victory, leading into the second round on Sunday.
Turkey’s electoral commission sends its own data to political parties throughout the vote count, but does not declare the official results until a few days later.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for 20 years, was favored to win another five-year term in the second round, after falling narrowly short of outright victory in the first round on May 14.
The divisive populist finished four percentage points ahead of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the candidate for a six-party alliance. Erdogan’s performance came despite crippling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake three months ago. It was the first time he had not won an election where he was running as a candidate.
The two candidates offered very different visions of the country’s future and its recent past.
This election took place under very difficult circumstances, there was all kinds of slander and slander, Kilicdaroglu (pronounced KEH-lich-DAHR-OH-loo) told reporters after casting his vote. But I trust people’s common sense. Democracy will come, freedom will come, people will be able to walk the streets and criticize politicians freely.
Speaking to reporters after voting at a school in Istanbul, Erdogan noted that this was the first presidential run-off in Turkey’s history. He also praised the high turnout in the first round and said he expected turnout to be high again on Sunday. He voted at the same time as Kilicdaroglu, as local television showed the rivals voting on split screens.
I pray to God that it (the election) will benefit our country and our nation, he said.
Critics blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for soaring inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis. Many also blamed his government for responding slowly to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey.
In the predominantly Kurdish-populated province of Diyarbakir, one of 11 regions affected by the February 6 earthquake, Mustafa Yesil, a 60-year-old pensioner, said he had voted for change.
I am not happy at all with the way this country is doing. Let’s be clear, if this current administration continues, I don’t see good things for the future, he said. I see that it will end badly this administration must change.
Mehmet Yurttas, an Erdogan supporter, disagreed.
I believe our homeland is at the top, in very good condition, the 57-year-old trader said. Our country’s trajectory is very good and it will continue to be good.
Erdogan retained the support of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for raising the profile of Islam in Turkey, which was based on secular principles, and for increasing the country’s influence in world politics.
If he wins, Erdogan, 69, could stay in power until 2028. A devout Muslim, he leads the conservative and religious Justice and Development party, or AKP. Erdogan transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role into a powerful office thanks to a narrowly won referendum in 2017 that scrapped Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014 and won the 2018 elections that ushered in the executive presidency.
The first half of Erdogan’s term included reforms that allowed the country to begin talks to join the European Union and economic growth that lifted many people out of poverty. But then he moved to suppress freedoms and the media and concentrated more power in his hands, especially after a failed coup attempt which Turkey says was orchestrated by the US-based Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen. UNITED STATES. The cleric denies any involvement.
Erdogan’s rival is a mild-mannered former civil servant who has led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010. Kilicdaroglu campaigned on promises to reverse Erdogan’s democratic backsliding, restore the economy returning to more conventional policies and improving relations with the West.
In a frantic effort to reach out to nationalist voters in the run-off, Kilicdaroglu pledged to return refugees and ruled out peace talks with Kurdish militants if elected.
A defeat for Kilicdaroglu would add to a long list of electoral defeats for Erdogan and put pressure on him to step down as party chairman.
The Erdogans AKP party and its allies retained the majority of seats in parliament following legislative elections also held on May 14.
The Erdogans party dominated in the quake-hit region, winning 10 of 11 provinces in a region that has traditionally backed the president. Erdogan came out on top in the first round of the presidential race in eight of those provinces.
Sunday also marks the 10th anniversary of the start of mass anti-government protests that erupted against plans to uproot trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park and have become one of the most serious challenges for the Erdogans government.
Erdogan’s response to the protests, in which eight people were convicted for their alleged involvement, was a harbinger of a crackdown on civil society and free speech.
After the May 14 vote, international observers pointed to the criminalization of spreading false information and online censorship as evidence that Erdogan had an unfair advantage. They also said the strong turnout showed the resilience of Turkish democracy.
Erdogan and pro-government media described Kilicdaroglu, who received support from the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with terrorists and supporting what they described as deviant LGBTQ rights.
Kilicdaroglu takes his orders from Qandil, Erdogan has said repeatedly at recent campaign rallies, a reference to the mountains of Iraq where the leadership of the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, is based.
The election came as the country marked the 100th anniversary of its establishment as a republic, following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.
Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Mucahit Ceylan contributed from Diyarbakir, Turkey and Cinar Kiper contributed from Bodrum, Turkey.
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