ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Close, but not close enough. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received the most votes in a weekend presidential election but could not claim victory because he failed to get the majority support required for an outright win.
Preliminary results showed the longtime leader had 49.5% of the vote. His main challenger, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, garnered 45%, according to Turkish election authorities. A third candidate, nationalist politician Sinan Ogan, received 5.2%.
The election is being followed internationally to see the future direction of Turkey. The strategically located NATO member has cultivated warm relations with Russia, become less secular and tilted toward authoritarianism under Erdogan.
Kilicdaroglu has promised to reorient the country as a democracy and is expected to adopt a more pro-Western stance.
The Supreme Electoral board said Monday the results mean Erdogan, 69, and Kilicdaroglu, 74, will compete in a runoff election on May 28. Here’s a look at Turkey’s two-round presidential election system and what happens next:
HOW DOES THE TWO-ROUND ELECTION WORK?
Erdogan, who has strengthened his grip on NATO member Turkey since first coming to national power as prime minister in 2003, succeeded in changing the country’s system of government from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidency through a 2017 referendum.
The change, which took effect after the 2018 elections, abolished the office of the prime minister and concentrated broad powers in the president’s hands.
It was therefore decided that the head of both state and government needed to receive more than 50% of the vote to secure office in a single election. Since neither Erdogan nor Kilicdaroglu did that Sunday, the two front-runners must face each other again in two weeks, while the third candidate is out of the running.
France and some other European countries use a similar process for electing presidents.
WHAT PART DOES THE THIRD CANDIDATE PLAY?
Ogan, 55, a former academic who was backed by an anti-migrant party, could become the kingmaker in the runoff now that he’s out of the race. He hasn’t yet endorsed either of the remaining candidates.
Turkish nationalists disgruntled with Erdogan but reluctant to vote for Kilicdaroglu, who had support from a six-party alliance and the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, appear to have accounted for most of Ogan’s votes.
The far right accuses the pro-Kurdish party of having links to outlawed Kurdish militants – an accusation the party denies. Ogan has said he would not back any candidate “who doesn’t keep a distance with the terror organization.”
Soner Cagaptay, an expert on Turkey at the Washington Institute think tank, said most Ogan voters are likely to go for Erdogan whether or not their original candidate endorses the Turkish leader.
“It’s certain that Erdogan is going to sweep the second round,” Cagaptay said.
WHAT ARE THE LIKELY SCENARIOS?
Erdogan performed better than expected in the election held Sunday, and the People’s Alliance led by his party retained a majority in Turkey’s 600-seat parliament. Analysts say that gives the Turkish leader an edge in the runoff because voters may want to avoid having different factions running the executive and legislative branches.
Erdogan said as much early Monday.
“We have no doubt that the preference of our nation, which gave the majority in parliament to the People’s Alliance, will be in favor of trust and stability in the (second round),” the president told his supporters in Ankara.
Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party, or CHP, said he was certain of a second-round victory, but Sunday’s results indicate he could struggle to attract enough votes even though he was the candidate of the six-party Nation Alliance.
WHAT TO EXPECT BEFORE THE RUNOFF
Analysts suggest the campaigning before the runoff could be brutal. Before Sunday’s vote, Erdogan disparaged the opposition as being supported by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK. At one rally, he showed hundreds of thousands of his supporters a faked video purporting to show a PKK commander singing an opposition campaign song.
“Information control was President Erdogan’s greatest asset in running and entering the election season. And I think his media loyal to him has successfully framed HDP support to Kilicdaroglu as ‘terrorist support,’” Cagaptay said. “That helped scare away some nationalist voters.”
Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan had failed to get the result he wanted despite slinging “slanders and insults” toward the opposition.
Analysts also warned of economic turbulence in the next two weeks. Markets were watching the elections to see if Turkey would return to more traditional economic policies, as promised by Kilidaroglu. Experts say Erdogan’s economic policies, which ran contrary to mainstream theories, led to the country’s currency crisis and soaring inflation.
The Turkish stock exchange, Borsa Istanbul BIST 100 index, dropped 6.2% at Monday’s opening before recovering some ground.
“Turkey’s political destiny remains on hold until the second round, scheduled for 28 May,” Bartosz Sawicki, market analyst at financial services firm Conotoxia, wrote in emailed comments. “(The outcome will) determine whether Turkey will continue down the path of unorthodox, imbalance-increasing policies or whether, after 20 years, it will return to a path of reform and recovery using methods more in line with economic textbooks.”