Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has claimed victory in Sunday’s pivotal run-off election, as initial results put Turkey’s president on course to extend his rule into a third decade.
Erdoğan had secured about 52 per cent of the vote, compared with 48 per cent for rival Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, according to the state Anadolu News agency, after more than 99 per cent of ballot boxes had been opened.
A victory would cap an extraordinary campaign for Erdoğan, who went into this election cycle at his most vulnerable since he first became Turkey’s leader in 2003, with the country gripped by an acute cost of living crisis and an opposition at its most organised in years.
“Without making any concession in our democracy, development nor goals, we’ve opened the door to the century of Turkey together. From men and women, young and old, workers and retirees, all segments of our nation realised our dreams together,” Erdoğan said in a victory speech in Istanbul on Sunday evening, delivered from atop a bus to raucous applause from supporters standing below.
Sunday’s second-round vote was billed by Erdoğan and Kılıçdaroğlu, who led a six-party alliance, as a referendum on Turkey’s future, exactly 100 years after the republic was founded by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
But he presides over an economy that is under increasing strain. The lira hit a record low on Friday, while the country’s dollar bonds were hit hard over the past fortnight and costs to insure against a debt default lurched higher.
Investors and economists say they are particularly worried about a big slide in Turkey’s foreign exchange reserves, which accelerated ahead of the first round of elections on May 14.
The opposition had also warned that another five-year term for Erdoğan, who has towered over Turkey like no other politician since Atatürk, would send the country irreversibly down a path where democracy and human rights were steadily eroded. The longtime leader, who has centralised power in an executive presidency, accused his opponents of aligning with terrorists and the west at Turkey’s expense.
Erdoğan also took a hard line on foreign policy ahead of the vote, pushing back against Sweden’s accession to Nato despite pressure from allies.
Erdoğan emphasised family values, the battle against terrorism and Turkey’s increasing role on the world stage in a series of fiery campaign rallies that helped to galvanise support among conservative, pious voters. He also launched repeated personal attacks against Kılıçdaroğlu, including in his victory speech on Sunday.
Backing from Erdoğan’s base in Turkey’s Anatolian heartland helped the president exceed expectations in the first round, in which he defied polls to edge Kılıçdaroğlu into second place, although neither candidate gained the more than 50 per cent of the voted needed to win outright.
Going into that vote, Turkey’s opposition was brimming with confidence that scorching inflation and the government’s stuttering response to the devastating earthquake in February could carry them to victory.
Erdoğan’s president’s bloc, a coalition that includes his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development party and the Nationalist Movement party also held on to its majority in parliament in a legislative vote on May 14.
Kılıçdaroğlu, 74, had vowed to revive the economy by reversing many of Erdoğan’s policies, while also bringing Turkey back to a parliamentary democracy from the executive presidency system that was put in place after a referendum in 2017.
After the disappointing first-round performance, Kılıçdaroğlu switched from a campaign that promised “spring will come”, to harsher nationalist, anti-immigration rhetoric. He was dealt a further blow when Sinan Oğan, the nationalist powerbroker who finished third in the first round, threw his support behind Erdoğan.
International election observers said the first-round vote was broadly free, but they noted that the campaigns had been far from fair. Erdoğan leaned heavily on state resources, providing giveaways such as free gas and 10GB of internet for students. He also boosted pay for public sector workers and increased the minimum wage.
The country’s media, which is largely affiliated with the government, has provided wall-to-wall coverage of Erdoğan events, including the opening of a Black Sea gas facility and the inauguration of a warship.