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Erdogan asserts he can still win and would tolerate a presidential election runoff

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ANKARA, Turkey — As the final ballots were counted on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has governed his country with an ever-tightening grip for the past two decades, was engaged in a tight election race against his chief challenger, with a decisive runoff possible.

The results will determine whether a NATO ally that straddles Europe and Asia but borders Syria and Iran remains under Erdogan’s control or resumes the more democratic path promised by his main rival, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan told his supporters in Ankara that he could still win, but he would respect the nation’s choice if the election went to a runoff in two weeks.

We do not yet know if the elections were decided in the first round. If our nation has opted for a second round, that is also acceptable,” Erdogan said early Monday morning, noting that votes from Turkish citizens residing abroad must still be counted. He received 60% of the vote from overseas in 2018.

This year’s election focused primarily on domestic issues, including the economy, civil rights, and a February earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people. In addition, Western nations and foreign investors awaited the outcome due to Erdogan’s sometimes erratic economic management and efforts to position Turkey at the centre of international negotiations.

As the unofficial tally neared completion, the incumbent’s support among the electorate had fallen below the threshold necessary for him to gain reelection outright. According to Anadolu, Erdogan received 49.6% of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of a six-party alliance, received 44.7%.

The Supreme Electoral Board, the election authority in Turkey, stated that it was providing numbers to competing political parties ”immediately” and that it would make the results public once the count was concluded and finalised.

According to the board, the majority of ballots from the 3,4 million eligible overseas voters remained to be counted, and a runoff election on May 28 was not guaranteed.

Erdogan is likely to have an advantage in a runoff, according to Howard Eissenstat, an associate professor of Middle East history and politics at St. Lawrence University in New York. Erdogan’s party is likely to perform better in Sunday’s parliamentary election. He stated that voters would not desire a ”divided government”.

Since 2003, Erdogan, 69, has served as either prime minister or president of Turkey. Prior to the election, opinion polls indicated that the increasingly authoritarian leader trailed his opponent by a razor-thin margin.

Members of Kilicdaroglu’s center-left, pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, contested Anadolu’s initial numbers, claiming the state-run agency was biassed in favour of Erodgan given the fragmentary results.

Omer Celik, a spokesman for Erdogan’s Justice and Development (AK) party, accused the opposition of attempting to ”assassinate the national will.” He deemed the claims of the opposition to be irresponsible.

Kilicdaroglu, 74, ran on promises to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other forms of democratic backsliding, as well as to repair an economy ravaged by high inflation and currency devaluation.

Voters also elected legislators to fill Turkey’s 600-seat parliament, which lost much of its legislative authority after a 2017 referendum narrowly approved to change the country’s system of government to an executive presidency.

With 92% of ballot boxes counted, the Anadolu news agency reported that Erdogan’s ruling party alliance was hovering just below 50%, while Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance had approximately 35% and a pro-Kurdish party had more than 10%.

Erdogan stated, “The fact that the election results have not been finalised does not change the fact that the nation has chosen us.”

More than 64 million eligible electors, including those overseas, participated in the election. This year marks the centenary anniversary of Turkey’s establishment as a republic — a modern, secular state that emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire.

Despite the government’s suppression of freedom of expression and assembly over the years and particularly since the 2016 coup attempt, voter turnout in Turkey has historically been high. Erdogan attributed the failed coup to followers of an erstwhile ally, cleric Fethullah Gulen, and launched a widespread crackdown against civil servants with alleged ties to Gulen and pro-Kurdish politicians.

Internationally, the elections were viewed as a measure of the opposition’s ability to oust a leader who has consolidated nearly all state powers in his hands and worked to expand his global influence.

Despite Russia’s conflict in Ukraine, Erdogan and the United Nations helped mediate a deal between Ukraine and Russia that allowed Ukrainian grain to reach the rest of the world via Black Sea ports. The agreement, which is administered by a centre based in Istanbul, is due to expire in a matter of days, and last week Turkey hosted talks to keep it alive.

But Erdogan has also obstructed Sweden’s bid to join NATO while demanding concessions, arguing that Sweden was too lenient on disciples of the U.S.-based cleric and pro-Kurdish groups that Turkey considers national security threats.

According to critics, an excruciating cost-of-living crisis is a result of the president’s authoritarian approach. The most recent official statistics place inflation at approximately 44%, down from a peak of approximately 86%. Vegetable prices became a campaign issue for the opposition, whose symbol was an onion.

Erdogan contends, contrary to conventional economic thought, that high interest rates promote inflation, and he exerted repeated pressure on the Central Bank of the Republic of Turkey to reduce its key rate.

The government of Erdogan was also criticised for its allegedly delayed and inadequate response to the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that devastated eleven southern provinces. It is believed that lax enforcement of building codes exacerbated the fatalities and suffering.

Erdogan utilised state resources and his dominant media position during his election campaign in an effort to win voters. He accused the opposition of collaborating with ”terrorists,” of being ”drunkards,” and of supporting LGBTQ+ rights, which he views as a threat to traditional family values in the predominantly Muslim country.

In an effort to garner support, the Turkish leader increased wages and pensions, subsidised electricity and gas costs, and highlighted the country’s indigenous defence and infrastructure projects.

”Paychecks or putting food on the table do not inherently trump identification with one’s political party,” said Eissentat, a university professor. Erdogan’s efforts at polarisation, demonization of the opposition as traitors and terrorists, and use of culture conflicts are all designed to exploit these dynamics, according to the author.

If Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance won both the presidential and parliamentary elections, it committed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy. It also promised to restore the judiciary and central bank’s independence.

”We have all sorely missed democracy. Kilicdaroglu stated after voting at a school in Ankara, “We all missed being together.”

Sinan Ogan, a former academic with the support of an anti-immigrant nationalist party and more than 5 percent of votes counted thus far, was also running for president.

Info Sources- Star Tribune, Abc News, Msn

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