Turkish presidential election goes to runoff as 'no party could actually win in the first round'

"Erdogan will not win" joint Turkish opposition candidate Kilicdaroglu told ABC.

May 17, 2023, 8:49 PM

Istanbul -- Voters in Turkey will return to the polls soon as no candidate was able to receive 50% of voting in the first round of the critical presidential election.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has ruled the country for 20 years and has won the majority of the elections, got 49.2% of the May 14 vote, while his Social Democrat rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu who was nominated by the opposition as a joint candidate, received at 44.5%. Independent Nationalist candidate Sinan Ogan got over 5% of the vote and also positioned himself in a strong position by almost holding the key to determine the winner in the second round.

The two candidates with the most votes will enter the second round. However, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have both claimed victory and claim their rival lost. They also both insist they will win in the second round of the election which will be held on May 28.

Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, tweeted on Monday "God willing we will have a historic win by increasing our votes from May 14 and emerging victorious on May 28 elections," the Associated Press reported.

Officials count ballots at a polling station during presidential and parliament elections in the Kadikoy district of Istanbul, Turkey, May 14, 2023.
Moe Zoyari/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

"Erdogan will not win," Kilicdaroglu, the joint candidate of the Turkish opposition, told ABC News, responding to a question if he expects an economic crisis if Erdogan wins.

Kilicdaroglu appeared to be very confident during the interview in Düzce a few days before the elections. He posted a video the day of election on his social media accounts saying "I am here it I will struggle till the end" and slapped the table when it was officially clear that he finished in second place.

"I am so saddened and despair. If I have a chance, I would leave the country [as] these election result [are] unacceptable. Unfortunately, our people is not questioning before they vote. They cast their vote like football club fan," Oya, who asked that her last name not be used, told ABC News while in tears walking in Besiktas which is the stronghold neighborhood of opposition.

Turkey's presidential candidates on a ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, May 14, 2023.
Moe Zoyari/Bloomberg via Getty Images, FILE

Erdogan, who was a few points behind in almost all the polls until then, spoke for hundreds of thousands at the old airport a few days later, accusing the opposition of taking instructions from terrorist organizations and the West. He spoke at the Istanbul rally, accusing the opposition of "terrorism" and uttering the words "We will not let Kilicdaroglu divide the homeland."

"Erdogan's votes are near four points higher than Kilicdaroglu's so we can say Erdogan concluded the first round with a net advantage. On the other hand, no party could actually win in the first round. Further, Erdogan's votes declined from near 52% in 2018 to 49% in 2023, with his party's votes declining from 42% in 2018 to 35% in 2023. In contrast, CHP's votes increased from 22% to 25% between 2018 and 2023. In sum, the opposition managed to increase its support and weaken the incumbents but it was not enough to remove the latter from office yet," said Seda Demiralp, a political Scientist at Isik University.

A young woman, Feyza Özdeş showed up to celebrate in front of Erdogan's AK party Istanbul HQ on election night.

"This one is no exception, no surprise here. Erdoğan already won. I see the second round as a formality at this point. Sinan Oğan himself may support Kilicdaroglu in the process, but a considerable part of his voters are AKP origin," Özdeş said.

A man walks past a billboard of Turkish CHP party leader and Nation Alliance's presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu a day after the presidential election day, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 15, 2023.
Emrah Gurel/AP

Özdes is not the only one in Turkey that believed Nationalists fueled Erdogan votes. Erdogan has referenced the nationalist campaign in this election.

"Nationalist campaign that aimed at moving the public agenda away from the economic crisis worked. We saw a rise in nationalist sentiments over the past couple of weeks. Most voters bought the incumbent campaign that associated the opposition with a weak position visavis terrorism. As a result, not only opposition votes remained limited, despite the economic crisis, but nationalist parties and leaders' votes increased," said Seda Demiralp, a political analyst from Isik University.

The runoff election will allow Turkish voters to decide whether they will be ruled for another five years by Erdogan or make a change after 20 years by giving Kilicdaroglu a chance. Some strongly think Erdogan will be starting a couple of steps ahead for the next race.

"In the runoff, it is almost certain that Erdogan will win. His ruling alliance has won a clear majority in the parliament and he will run his campaign based on stability and continuity of the government under his presidency for another term," said Hakan Akbaş, Managing Director of Strategic Advisory Services. "He is also very charismatic, gifted campaigner in the old fashioned way, thrives on culture wars and divisive polarized fear-based campaigns that always heled him consolidate his voter base."

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