- Set the ruling coalition on the parliamentary majority
- Analysts believe that Erdogan has an advantage in the run-off
- The third-place candidate may play kingmaker
- Political uncertainty is weighing on the markets
ANKARA (Reuters) – President Recep Tayyip Erdogan comfortably led Monday after the first round of presidential elections in Turkey, where his rival faces an uphill struggle to prevent the president from extending his rule for a third decade in the May 28 runoff.
Weak Turkish assets in the news, which showed Erdogan only just below the 50% threshold needed to avoid sending the NATO member country into a second round of presidential elections seen as a verdict on his autocratic rule.
Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, which includes the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party and its nationalist partners, also seemed poised to win a majority in Turkey’s new parliament with 321 seats out of 600, boosting its chances in the presidential run-off.
“The winner was undoubtedly our country,” Erdogan said in a speech to his supporters at the headquarters of the Justice and Development Party in the capital, Ankara, last night.
The head of the Supreme Electoral Council, Ahmet Yener, told reporters that with most votes counted in the presidential election, Erdogan received 49.51% and his main opposition rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, 44.88%. The turnout was very high, 88.8%.
Further boosting Erdogan’s prospects, nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan, who finished third in Sunday’s election, told Reuters in an interview that he would only support Kilicdaroglu in the run-off if the latter ruled out any concessions to a pro-Kurdish party, the third largest in parliament.
This party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, supports Kilicdaroglu but is accused of having links with Kurdish militants, which the party denies.
The 2.8 million voters who supported Ogan in the first round could be crucial for Kilicdaroglu if he wants to defeat Erdogan.
Opinion polls showed Erdogan, 69, trailing Kilicdaroglu, but the result indicates that the president and his party, the Justice and Development Party, were able to rally conservative voters despite the cost of living crisis and high inflation.
Kilicdaroglu, the head of a six-party alliance, vowed to win the run-off and accused Erdogan’s party of meddling in tallying and reporting the results. He called on his supporters to be patient, but on Monday they were saddened.
“We are sad and depressed about the whole situation. We expected different results,” said Volkan Atilcan, sitting near a ferry terminal in Istanbul. “God willing, we will win this victory in the second round.”
By contrast, Erdogan supporters cheered as the results filtered in. Cybersecurity engineer Fiyaz Balcu, 23, was confident Erdogan could fix Turkey’s economic woes.
“It is very important for all Turks that Erdogan wins the elections. He is a world leader and all Turks and Muslims want Erdogan as president,” he said.
The prospect of another five years of Erdogan’s rule would unsettle civil rights activists campaigning for reforms to undo the damage they say he has done to Turkish democracy.
Thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released if the opposition wins.
Stocks fell, the lira neared a two-month low, sovereign dollar bonds fell, and the cost of securing exposure to Turkey’s debt rose. Analysts expressed concern about the uncertainty and diminishing prospects for a return to traditional economic policy.
“Erdogan now has a clear psychological advantage against the opposition,” said Teneo co-chair Wolfango Piccoli. “Erdogan is likely to double down on his national security-focused narratives over the next two weeks.”
The election was watched closely in Europe, Washington, Moscow, and across the region, as Erdogan asserted Turkish strength while strengthening ties with Russia and putting strain on Ankara’s traditional alliance with the United States.
Erdogan has friendly relations with President Vladimir Putin, and his strong showing is likely to embolden the Kremlin but upset the Biden administration, as well as many European and Middle Eastern leaders who have troubled relations with Erdogan.
The Kremlin said on Monday that it expects Russia’s cooperation with Turkey to continue and to deepen whoever wins the elections.
Political uncertainty is expected to weigh on the financial markets over the next two weeks. Overnight, the lira hit a new two-month low against the dollar, falling to 19.70 before easing back to 19.645 by 0600 GMT.
The cost of insuring against a Turkish default on its sovereign debt rose to a six-month high, jumping 105 basis points from Friday’s levels to 597 basis points, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.
The opposition had expected to capitalize on voters’ anger over economic woes after an unorthodox policy of low interest rates triggered a lira crisis and soaring inflation. The government’s slow response to earthquakes that killed 50,000 people in February was also expected to affect voters.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, vowed to revive democracy after years of state repression, return to traditional economic policies, empower institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan, and rebuild fraying relations with the West.
Critics fear Erdogan, a veteran with scores of electoral victories, could rule more authoritarian than ever if he wins another five-year term. He says he respects democracy.
(Reporting by Muhammed Emin Kaleskan, Jonathan Spicer, Kan Sezer, Tom Westbrook). Writing by Darren Butler; Editing by Tom Perry and Gareth Jones
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