Turkey is set for a presidential election runoff, with current president Tayyip Erdogan and opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu both claiming the lead, but neither expected to clear the 50% threshold required for an outright win. Early results showed Erdogan ahead, but as the count continued, his advantage eroded, and a runoff on May 28 is now expected. Both sides dismissed the other’s count, with no official result announced. The elections, which are also for parliament, are being watched closely in Western capitals, the Middle East, NATO, and Moscow, as they could end Erdogan’s rule and shape Turkey’s future.
The presidential vote will decide not only who leads Turkey, but also how it is governed, where its economy is headed amidst a deep cost of living crisis, and the shape of its foreign policy. Erdogan has turned Turkey into a global player with megaprojects such as new bridges, hospitals, and airports, as well as a military industry sought by foreign states, but his volatile economic policy of low interest rates and slow response to crises have left him vulnerable to criticism.
Kilicdaroglu has pledged to set Turkey on a new course by reviving democracy, returning to orthodox economic policies, empowering institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan, and rebuilding ties with the West. Thousands of political prisoners and activists, including high-level names such as Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtas and philanthropist Osman Kavala, could be released if the opposition prevails.
The parliamentary vote is a race between Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party and the nationalist MHP and others, and Kilicdaroglu’s Nation Alliance formed of six opposition parties, including his secularist Republican People’s Party. Erdogan commands fierce loyalty from pious Turks who once felt disenfranchised in secular Turkey, but if Turks oust him, it will be largely because they saw their prosperity and ability to meet basic needs decline, with inflation topping 85% in Oct. 2022 and a collapse in the lira currency.
Kurdish voters, who account for 15-20% of the electorate, will play a vital role, with the Nation Alliance unlikely to attain a parliamentary majority by itself. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party fiercely opposes Erdogan after a crackdown on its members in recent years.
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