The counting of the elections shows that Erdogan could move into the run-off for the presidential election in Turkey


ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Voter support for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has fallen below the majority needed for his re-election as the vote count in Turkey’s national election on Sunday is almost complete, making it more likely that the country will head for a presidential election on March 28. May heading out.

According to the state-run Anadolu Agency, Erdogan received 49.6% of the votes in almost 95% of the ballot boxes counted. His main rival, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, was 44.7% as the gap between the two narrowed throughout the night.

Meanwhile, the opposition news agency Anka reported that after counting almost all the ballot boxes, Erdogan got 49% and Kilicdaroglu 45%. Ballots from some Turkish citizens who voted from outside the country still have to be added to the counts, officials said, and a runoff election is not assured.

Should neither candidate receive more than half of the votes, the two top candidates will go head-to-head in two weeks time. Turkey’s electoral authority, the Supreme Electoral Body, said it will provide numbers to competing political parties “immediately” but will not release the results until the count is complete and final.

Erdogan, 69, has ruled Turkey as either prime minister or president for two decades. In the run-up to the election, opinion polls showed that the increasingly authoritarian leader was just behind his challenger. The opposition candidate’s party accused Anadolu of manipulating the results and once insisted the 74-year-old finance official was just ahead.

With the partial results showing otherwise, members of Kilicdaroglu’s centre-left, pro-secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) claimed that the state news agency was biased in favor of Erodgan.

Omer Celik, a spokesman for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AK), in turn accused the opposition of an “attempt to assassinate the national will” by claiming that the state news agency had falsified the results. He called the opposition’s claims “irresponsible”.

While Erdogan hoped to win a five-year term that would take him well into his third decade as Turkey’s leader, 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu campaigned to put the country back on a more democratic path, repairing its high-inflation-battered economy and currency devaluation.

Voters also chose lawmakers to fill Turkey’s 600-seat parliament, which had lost much of its legislative power after a referendum that was set to narrowly shift the country’s system of government to an executive presidency adopted in 2017.

Counting 88% of the ballot boxes, Anadolu said that Erdogan’s government alliance is over 50% and Kilicdaroglu’s national alliance is around 35%.

More than 64 million people were eligible to vote. This year marks the 100th anniversary of Turkey’s founding as a republic – a modern, secular state that emerged from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire.

Voter turnout in Turkey has traditionally been high, but since an attempted coup in 2016 the government has suppressed freedom of expression and assembly. Erdogan blamed the failed coup on supporters of former ally cleric Fethullah Gülen and launched a full-scale crackdown on officials with alleged links to Gülen and pro-Kurdish politicians.

Erdogan, along with the United Nations, helped broker an agreement with Ukraine and Russia that allowed Ukrainian grain to reach the rest of the world from Black Sea ports, despite Russia’s war in Ukraine. The deal, which is being implemented by an Istanbul-based centre, expires in a few days and Turkey held talks last week to uphold it.

But Erdogan has also held back Sweden’s bid to join NATO for a while demand concessionsarguing that the nation is too lenient towards supporters of the US-based cleric and members of pro-Kurdish groups that Turkey sees as a threat to national security.

Critics claim the president’s intransigent style is responsible for a painful cost-of-living crisis. The latest official statistics put inflation at around 44%, down from a peak of around 86%. The price of vegetables became a campaign issue for the opposition, which used an onion as a symbol.

Contrary to mainstream economic thinking, Erdogan claims that high interest rates fuel inflation and has pressured the Republic of Turkey’s central bank to cut interest rates several times.

Erdogan’s government has also been criticized for its allegedly delayed and stunted response to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated 11 southern provinces. Lax implementation of building codes is believed to have exacerbated the death toll and misery.

In his election campaign, Erdogan used state funds and his dominant position over the media to woo voters. He accused the opposition of collaborating with “terrorists”, being “drunkards” and upholding LGBTQ+ rights, which he says pose a threat to traditional family values ​​in the predominantly Muslim nation.

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To secure support, he raised wages and pensions, subsidized electricity and gas bills, while presenting Turkey’s self-developed defense and infrastructure projects.

Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance pledged to convert Turkey’s system of government back to a parliamentary democracy if it won both the presidential and parliamentary elections. It also promised to restore and reverse the independence of the judiciary and the central bank Raids on freedom of expression and other forms of democratic backsliding in Turkey.

“We all missed democracy so much. We all missed being together,” Kilicdaroglu said after the vote at a school in Ankara.

Also running for president is Sinan Ogan, a former academic backed by an anti-immigrant nationalist party. His candidacy was expected to draw potential supporters away from the two main candidates.

At the polling stations, many voters struggled to fold bulky ballots – on which 24 political parties competed for seats in Parliament – ​​and put them in envelopes along with the ballot for the presidency.

Almost 9 million people were eligible to vote in the 11 provinces affected by the earthquake. About three million people left the earthquake area and moved to other provinces, but only 133,000 people registered to vote in their new locations.

In Diyarbakir, a Kurdish-majority city hit by the earthquake, Ramazan Akcay arrived at his polling station early to cast his ballot.

“God willing, it will be a democratic election,” he said. “May it be of use on behalf of our country.”

Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Mucahit Ceylan contributed from Diyarbakir, Turkey.

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