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ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s presidential election appeared headed for a runoff on Sunday, with Recep Tayyip Erdogan failing to win a majority of votes, a result that left the longtime leader struggling to overcome his toughest political challenge. Abandoned livelihood.

outcome of Don’t set the stage for a A two-week battle between Mr Erdogan and opposition leader Kemal Kilikdaroglu to win the May 28 runoff reshaped Turkey’s political landscape.

According to the official Anadolu news agency, after the unofficial count was almost complete, Mr. Erdogan received 49.4 percent of the vote compared to Mr. Kilikdaroglu’s 44.8 percent.

But both sides claimed to be ahead.

“Although the final results are not out yet, we are far ahead,” Erdogan told supporters gathered outside his party’s headquarters in the capital, Ankara.

Speaking at his party’s headquarters, Mr Kilicdaroglu said the vote would express “the will of the nation”. “We are here till each and every vote is counted,” he said.

The competing claims came after a sour evening early Monday, during which each camp accused the other of announcing misleading information. Mr Erdogan warned the opposition on Twitter against “capturing the national will” and called on his party loyalists “not to leave the polling stations no matter what, until the results are finalised”.

Opposition politicians disputed the initial totals reported by Anadolu, saying their own figures were collected directly from polling stations, which Mr Kilikdaroglu heads.

At stake is the path of a NATO member that has managed to destabilize many of its Western allies while maintaining cozy ties to the Kremlin. One of the world’s 20 largest economies, Turkey has a range of political and economic ties that span Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East, and its domestic and foreign policies depend on who wins. .

After becoming prime minister in 2003, he presided over a period of tremendous economic growth that transformed Turkey’s cities and lifted millions of Turks out of poverty. Internationally, he was hailed as a new model of a democratic Islamist who was pro-business and wanted stronger ties with the West.

But over the past decade, Mr Erdogan’s critics have grown both at home and abroad. He faced massive protests against his governing style in 2013, and in 2016, two years after becoming president, he survived a coup attempt. Along the way, he seized opportunities to sideline rivals and gather more power into his own hands, prompting accusations from the political opposition that he was steering the country towards an autocracy.

Since 2018, a sinking currency and inflation, which official figures say were more than 80 percent last year and 44 percent last month, have eroded the value of Turks’ savings and salaries.

Mr Erdogan’s inability to win the first round of voting on Sunday confirmed a decline in his standing among voters angered by his stewardship of the economy and consolidation of power. In his last election, in 2018, he won outright against three other candidates with 53 percent of the vote. His nearest rival got 31 percent.

On Sunday, a voter, Fatma K. She said she had supported Mr Erdogan in the past, but not this time, because she was angry about how expensive food items such as onions had become.

“He has forgotten where he came from,” Ms. Kay, 70, said. “This country can lift someone up, but we also know how to bring someone down.”

Nevertheless, she did not go to Mr. Kilicdaroglu, but instead voted for the third candidate, Sinan Ogan, who got about 5 percent of the vote. Mr. Ogan’s elimination could give Mr. Erdogan an edge in the runoff, as Mr. Ogan’s right-wing nationalist followers are more likely to favor him.

Mr Erdogan is popular among rural, working class and religious voters, who credit him with the country’s development, raising its international standing and expanding the rights of devout Muslims in Turkey’s staunchly secular state.

“We just love Erdogan,” said Halil Karaslan, a retiree. “They have built everything: roads, bridges and drones. People are comfortable and at peace.”

This, Mr. Karaslan said, was more important than rising prices. There is no economic crisis, he said. “Sure, things are expensive, but the pay is almost as high. It balances out.

Capitalizing on voters’ frustration, a coalition of six opposition parties came together to challenge Mr. Erdogan, backing a joint candidate Mr. Kilikdaroglu.

Mr Kılıkdaroğlu, a former civil servant who ran Turkey’s Social Security Administration before leading Turkey’s largest opposition party, campaigned as a protest of Mr. Erdogan. Offering a contrast to Mr Erdogan’s tough guy rhetoric, Mr Kilicdaroglu filmed campaign videos in his modest kitchen, talking about daily issues such as the price of onions.

Sunday’s vote was also held to determine the makeup of Turkey’s 600-member parliament, although results for those seats were not expected until Monday. Parliament lost significant power when the country switched to a presidential system in 2017 following a referendum backed by Mr Erdogan. The opposition has vowed to return the country to a parliamentary system.

Adding to the importance of these elections for many Turks is that 2023 marks the 100th anniversary of the country’s establishment as a republic following the fall of the Ottoman Empire. A national celebration is scheduled for the anniversary on October 29, and the President will preside over it.

The election was also driven by issues that have long polarized Turkish society, such as the proper place for religion in a state committed to strict secularism. In his 11 years as prime minister and nine years as president, Erdogan has expanded religious education and eased rules restricting religious dress.

Derya Akka, 29, cited her desire to cover her hair as the reason she supported Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. “They protect my freedom to wear the headscarf, which is the most important factor for me,” said Ms. Akka, who works in an Istanbul clothing store.

She felt so embarrassed after being humiliated in front of the class by a college professor that she dropped out of school, a decision she now regrets. “I felt like an outsider,” she said. “Now I wish that I had stayed and fought.”

But elsewhere in the city, Deniz Deniz, co-owner of a bar popular with the city’s LGBTQ community, bemoaned how the number of such establishments had dwindled over the last decade of Mr Erdogan’s tenure.

“I want to change a lot,” said Mr. Dennis. “I want a country where LGBT+ folk and women are not rejected. I want an egalitarian and democratic country.

in the southern region of Türkiye, which was devastated by strong earthquake In February that killed more than 50,000 people, many voters took their anger out on the government’s response at the ballot box.

“We had an earthquake here and the government didn’t even intervene,” said Rasim Dayanir, an earthquake survivor who voted for Mr. Kilikdaroglu. “But our brains were made before the earthquake.”

Mr Dayanir, 25, had fled the city of Antakya, which was largely destroyed in the quake, but returned with eight family members to vote on Sunday.

He stood among hundreds of voters queuing up to vote inside a primary school. Others cast votes in shipping containers that were set up to replace destroyed polling places. Mr Dayanir said his uncle, aunt and other members of his family were killed in the quake.

He said, ‘We are hopeful. “We believe in change.”

ben hubbard reported from Ankara, and Gulsin Harman from Istanbul. Reporting was contributed by elif ins from istanbul, Safak Timur to and from Ankara Nimet Kirak From the end

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