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Turkey election: Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu head to a runoff

May 15, 2023

Turkey is set for a second round of voting for the first time ever, after neither Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor Kemal Kilicdaroglu secured an absolute majority in Sunday's presidential election.

A person walks past billboards of Turkish President and People's Alliance's presidential candidate Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan could extend his two-decade grip on power as he heads for a runoff on May 28Image: Emrah Gurel/AP/picture alliance

Turkey is set for a second round of voting after neither President Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor his main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, were able to secure an outright majority in Sunday's presidential election, the country's electoral authority said.

Erdogan received 49.51% of the vote, while his main rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, came in second at 44.88%, according to the figures.

The third presidential candidate, Sinan Ogan, a nationalist politician, finished third at 5.17%.

With no candidate having crossed the 50% threshold for the presidency, Turkey is set for a runoff for the first time ever. 

The second round of voting in the presidential election has been penciled in for May 28.  

Both candidates have said they would accept a second round. Turnout was high at over 88%, Ahmet Yener, the head of the Supreme Electoral Board, told the press, as reported by DW journalist Julia Hahn.

What Erdogan said about the election

In a rousing speech outside his AK Party's headquarters in Ankara on Sunday night, Erdogan claimed his ruling alliance had won a "majority" as votes were still being counted.

"But if people take us to a second round, we will respect that too," Erdogan told his supporters.

Erdogan appeared confident that he would secure another term in office. 

"I wholeheartedly believe we will continue to serve our people in the coming five years," the 69-year-old leader said to huge cheers outside his party's headquarters.

Erdogan is Turkey's longest-serving leader and served as prime minister from 2003 until 2014, after which he stepped down as party leader to be the president. Overall, he has been in power for the last two decades.

He commands fierce loyalty from pious Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkey. His political career has survived an attempted coup in 2016, as well as numerous corruption scandals.

However, his political standing was severely damaged by rising inflation and the devastating earthquakes in February this year. 

What Kilicdaroglu said about the vote

Kilicdaroglu promised that if he wins he will return to orthodox economic policies from Erdogan's heavy management. He has also said he would seek to return Turkey to the parliamentary system of governance, from Erdogan's executive presidential system passed in a 2017 referendum.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu stands in front of a poster showing two faces of his challenger
Kilicdaroglu: 'The will for change in the society is higher than 50%'Image: MURAD SEZER/REUTERS

Kilicdaroglu has also promised to restore the independence of a judiciary that critics say Erdogan has used to crack down on dissent. 

He expressed confidence that he would win in a runoff as he spoke alongside leaders of the six-party alliance he led into the election.

"If our nation says second round, we will absolutely win in the second round," he said. "The will for change in the society is higher than 50%."

The 74-year-old has been chairman of the secular Republican People's Party (CHP) since 2007. 

Trust and mistrust in media

Turkish fact-checker Gülin Cavus told DW that people are more vulnerable to disinformation in highly charged environments like the elections. "This polarization deeply affects this Turkish election and the amount of misinformation," she said.

"It's really important to understand the dynamics and atmosphere in Turkey's media ecosystem. People actually don't trust the media that much. They consume and get news from social media channels," Cavus said.

Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, the director of the German Marshall Fund's Ankara office, echoed similar sentiments, telling DW that while Turkish media is largely seen as an extension of Erdogan's government, the majority of people do not rely on media outlets controlled by the president and his allies.

"I would say that to a large extent, President Erdogan and his rival, Kilicdaroglu have an equal access to media," he said. 

The election's outcome shows a "quite polarized" country, according to Sinem Adar, a Turkey researcher at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. While Erdogan had lost some ground, she told DW, his political alliance has used "nationalistic culturalist and militaristic tropes" to its advantage. 

Turkey's election headed to a runoff

People's Alliance heading for parliamentary majority

In addition to the presidential vote, parliamentary elections were also held in Turkey on Sunday. Erdogan claimed his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) had won a parliamentary majority with the help of its ultranationalist partner, the MHP.

With 99.83% of votes counted, Erdogan's People's Alliance was on course for 318 seats in the 600-seat parliament.

Kilicdaroglu's Nation Alliance formed of six opposition parties, including his secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), looked set for 211 seats.

Erdogan said Turkey's election system was "an example to the world" and refuted claims of data manipulation.

rm, kb,dh/rt (AFP, Reuters)