- A ruling coalition has been formed for a parliamentary majority
- Analysts See Erdogan Runoff Gain
- The third-placed candidate may play the role of ‘Kingmaker’
- Political uncertainty affects the markets
ANKARA, May 15 (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan took a comfortable lead in the first round of Turkey’s election on Monday, facing an uphill battle to prevent his challenger from extending his rule to a third decade in a runoff vote on May 28.
Turkish assets weakened on news that showed Erdogan below the 50% threshold seen as a verdict on his autocratic rule to avoid sending the NATO member to a second round of presidential elections.
Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, which includes his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist partners, looked set to win a majority in the new parliament with 321 of the 600 seats, further boosting his chances in the presidential election.
“The winner is undoubtedly our country,” Erdogan said in a speech to cheering supporters overnight at the headquarters of his ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party in the capital Ankara.
Before Sunday’s election, the opposition felt it had a better chance of ousting Erdogan, bolstered by polls showing him lagging behind his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. But the results suggest Erdogan and his AK Party managed to rally conservative voters despite the cost-of-living crisis.
Kilicdaroglu, head of the six-party coalition, vowed to win the runoff and accused Erdogan’s party of meddling in the counting and reporting of results. He called on his supporters to be patient, but they were let down on Monday.
“We are upset, we are depressed by the whole situation. We expected different results,” said passenger Volkan Atilkan, sitting near a ferry terminal in Istanbul. “God willing, we will win this victory in the second round.”
In contrast, Erdogan supporters cheered as the results filtered down, with cyber security engineer Fayez Balcu, 23, hoping Erdogan could fix Turkey’s economic woes.
“Erdogan winning the election is very important for all Turkish people. He is a world leader and all Turks and Muslims want Erdogan as president,” he said.
With 99% of the ballot boxes counted, Erdoğan was leading with 49.4 votes and Kılıkdaroğlu with 44.96%, High Election Board Chairman Ahmet Yener told reporters. Voter turnout was very high at 88.8%.
A third candidate, nationalist Sinan Ogan, won 5.2% of the vote and could play the role of “kingmaker” in the runoff if he decides to endorse one of the two, analysts said.
The prospect of Erdogan entering his third decade in office will upset civil rights activists campaigning to reform the damage they say he has done to Turkey’s democracy.
If the opposition wins, thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released.
Stocks fell, the lira hit a two-month low, sovereign dollar bonds fell and the cost of insuring Turkey’s debt rose. Analysts expressed concern over the uncertainty and reduced prospects for a return to economic policy orthodoxy.
“Erdogan now has a clear psychological lead against the opposition,” Teneo co-chairman Wolfgang Piccoli said. “Erdogan will double down on his national security-centric narrative over the next two weeks.”
Echoing that sentiment, Chatham House’s associate peer Ghalib Daley said: “In the pre-secondary campaign period, President Erdogan is likely to emphasize stability as he already maintains a majority in parliament.”
The election was closely watched in Europe, Washington, Moscow and across the region, where Erdogan asserted Turkish power while strengthening ties with Russia and putting pressure on Ankara’s traditional alliance with the United States.
Erdogan is one of President Vladimir Putin’s key allies and his strong-arm play will embolden the Kremlin but alarm the Biden administration and many European and Middle Eastern leaders who have had troubled relations with Erdogan.
Political uncertainty is expected to weigh on financial markets over the next two weeks. The lira hit a fresh two-month low against the dollar overnight, weakening to 19.70 before recovering to 19.645 by 0600 GMT.
The cost of insuring Turkey against default on its sovereign debt rose to a six-month high, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
After the votes were counted, there was an overnight frenzy at the opposition headquarters. Before the election, polls had put Klikdaroglu slightly ahead, with two polls on Friday showing him above the 50% mark.
The opposition hoped to benefit from voter anger over economic problems after the unconventional policy of low interest rates fueled the lira crisis and rising inflation. The government’s slow response to the February earthquakes, which killed 50,000 people, was expected to sway voters.
Kıltaroğlu has promised to restore democracy after years of state repression, return to orthodox economic policies, empower institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan and rebuild fragile ties with the West.
Critics fear that Erdogan will rule even more autocratically if he wins another term. The 69-year-old president, the oldest of a dozen electoral victories, says he values democracy.
Reporting by Mehmet Emin Kaliskan, Jonathan Spicer, Ken Cesar, Tom Westbrook; Written by Darren Butler; Editing by Tom Perry and Gareth Jones
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