Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and rival Kemal Kilidaroglu were locked in a fierce battle for the presidency on Sunday, as poll numbers suggested the chances of an unprecedented second round increased.
Both Erdogan and Kilidaroglu have said they are leading the race and have warned against drawing conclusions from early vote counts. But by midnight in Turkey, neither side appeared to be in line to secure the majority needed to win the race, saying the presidential election could be over in less than two weeks.
According to figures compiled by the state-run Anadolu news agency, Erdogan won less than 50 percent of the vote, based on 89 percent of ballot boxes counted. Anka, another press release tabulated the results, Kılıçdaroğlu 45 percent and Erdogan 49 percent, based on 90 percent of the ballot boxes.
Breakaway presidential hopeful Sinan Ogun from the Ultranationalist Nationalist Movement won about 5 percent of the vote, according to Anka and Anadolu figures. His role is significant because as it stands it denies the two main candidates the majority they need to win outright.
Polls ahead of Sunday’s hotly contested election showed Kılıçdaroğlu, who leads a six-party opposition coalition, ahead of Erdogan – although the margin of error was wide as many analysts predicted a runoff.
In a sign of how tensions are running high, Kılıçdaroğlu’s allies on Sunday contested the data provided by Anadolu, saying the calculations omitted areas where the opposition had done well and slowed the numbers for Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP). process by raising protests in opposition strongholds.
“My advice is to ignore the Anadolu Agency numbers because they are trying to deceive you,” Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Sunday.
AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik defended Anadolu, saying it was an important source for election reporting and that the “attacks” by Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican Party (CHP) amounted to “propaganda”. He said it was too early to announce a winner and called for patience.
“Regardless of the election results, we have a tradition of respecting the results. “You have a tradition of not honoring decisions through coups, memoranda and the exercise of the judiciary,” Selig said of the CHP.
Erdogan and Kilidaroglu both took to Twitter to tell party officials tasked with monitoring the ballot boxes not to leave their posts — a sign of how tight the results of the race will be. “I ask all my prosecutors and colleagues to stay at the ballot boxes, no matter what, until the results are officially finalized,” Erdogan said.
Polling stations across Turkey were bustling after more than 60 million people registered to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Erdogan, who first led the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power in 2002, faced a tough campaign as he clashed with Kılıçdaroğlu. The results will have global repercussions as NATO-member Turkey has played an increasingly important role on the international stage in recent years.
Kılıçdaroğlu promised to revive Turkey’s ailing economy, bring the country closer to the West’s orbit, and restore key institutions that had been undermined during Erdogan’s long tenure, first as prime minister and then as president.
The 74-year-old opposition leader has continued to campaign alongside other popular politicians who are part of the “Six Table” coalition, including Imamoglu and Yavas.
Erdogan, who attended evening prayers at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia mosque and made his final campaign stop on Saturday, remains popular among conservative, devout voters in Turkey’s Anatolian heartland.
At fiery campaign rallies, Erdogan cast himself as the only politician who could secure a prosperous future for Turkey and protect family values. On Saturday, Kılıçdaroğlu also accused US President Joe Biden of working with US President Joe Biden to defeat him, without presenting evidence.
Kılıçdaroğlu, meanwhile, called on voters to “change the destiny of Turkey” by voting for his opposition coalition.
Turks also voted in parliamentary elections on Sunday that could shake the balance of power. A coalition between Erdogan’s AKP and the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement party has a majority in the legislative branch.