Takeaways from Turkey's election as it heads toward a runoff
ISTANBUL – Turkey is heading to a runoff election in two weeks. Neither longtime Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor his main challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu were able to win more than 50% of the vote, according to Turkey's Supreme Election Council.
President Erdogan, who defied pre-election forecasts by taking 49.4% of the vote in Sunday's presidential contest, sees a path to winning another five years in office if he can secure the endorsement of a nationalist presidential candidate who came in third place in this vote.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, leads a six-party opposition coalition hoping to unseat Erdogan and garnered nearly 45% of the vote.
Erdogan outperformed expectations
Erdogan has governed Turkey, first as prime minister and then as president, for two decades. He was once seen as a reformer and champion of the working class, and this election has presented the most serious challenge yet to his leadership.
Pre-election forecasts gave a slight edge to Kilicdaroglu in Sunday's vote, but Erdogan surprised his critics with a strong showing that reached beyond his traditional base of working-class and observant Muslim supporters.
For several hours after the polls closed Sunday, Erdogan's lead was well above the 50% he needed for a first-round win, but as the evening wore on and votes came in from Turkey's larger cities, Kilicdaroglu closed to within five percentage points.
The results show rising dissatisfaction with Erdogan
Voters interviewed by NPR before the polls closed Sunday said they had ample reason to be dissatisfied with Erdogan's recent performance. After years of presiding over a strong economy, prices have soared and stubborn inflation has families struggling to make ends meet.
In addition, Erdogan was widely blamed for a slow and initially inadequate response to February's devastating earthquake that left more than 50,000 dead and millions homeless.
The opposition to Erdogan banded together
Kilicdaroglu positioned himself as a moderate, low-key alternative to the populist Erdogan. He indicated he would try to repair strained relations with the West and restore checks and balances to Turkey's democracy that Erdogan has undermined as he amassed increasing power.
Out of rising dissatisfaction with Erdogan's leadership, six opposition parties that usually quarrel with each other banded together to support Kilicdaroglu. The coalition, known as "The Table of Six," has a platform calling for the presidency to share more power with the parliament, as it had in the past. It wants more legal protections for individual rights and pledges to shore up the independence of the courts and electoral commission.
A third-party candidate could be kingmaker
Nationalist third-party candidate Sinan Ogan, who barely received 5% of the vote, is expected to meet with both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu in the coming days.
He has sought to position himself as a potential kingmaker, suggesting his endorsement could secure a second-round victory for either Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu, if they meet his demands — which include making no concessions to Turkey's Kurdish minority.
Analysts say that if Erdogan can reach a deal with Ogan, he could again defy expectations and secure another term in office.
Opposition supporters say they'll do everything they can between now and May 28, the date of what could prove to be a historic run-off election for Turkey.
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