As Turkey faces elections, Erdogan is seen with momentum

  • A ruling coalition has been formed for a parliamentary majority
  • Analysts See Erdogan Runoff Gain
  • The third-placed candidate may play the role of ‘Kingmaker’
  • Political uncertainty affects the markets

ANKARA, May 15 (Reuters) – Tayyip Erdogan held a comfortable lead on Monday after the first round of Turkey’s presidential election, facing an uphill battle in a runoff vote on May 28 to prevent the president from extending his rule to a third decade.

Turkish assets weakened on news that showed Erdogan below the 50% threshold seen as a verdict on his autocratic rule to avoid sending the NATO member to a second round of presidential elections.

Erdogan’s People’s Alliance, which includes his Islamist-rooted AK Party and its nationalist partners, looked set to win a majority in the new parliament with 321 of the 600 seats, further boosting his chances in the presidential election.

“The winner is undoubtedly our country,” Erdogan said in a late-night address to cheering supporters at the AKP headquarters in the capital, Ankara.

With 99% of ballot boxes counted in the presidential election, Erdogan was leading with 49.4 votes and his main opposition Kemal Kilikdaroglu with 44.96%, High Election Board Chairman Ahmet Yener told reporters. 88.8% voter turnout was very high.

In a further boost to Erdogan’s hopes, Sinan Ogun, the nationalist candidate who finished third in Sunday’s election, told Reuters in an interview on Monday that he would support Kilikdaroglu in a runoff only if no concessions were made to parliament’s third-largest pro-Kurdish party.

The party supports Kilikdaroglu, but has been accused of links to Kurdish militants, which it denies.

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The 2.8 million voters who supported Ogan in the first round will be crucial for Kilikdaroglu if he is to defeat Erdogan.

Opinion polls showed Erdogan trailing Kilikdaroglu, but the results suggest the president and his AK Party managed to rally conservative voters despite a cost-of-living crisis and high inflation.

Kilicdaroglu, head of the six-party coalition, vowed to win the runoff and accused Erdogan’s party of meddling in the counting and reporting of results. He called on his supporters to be patient, but they were let down on Monday.

“We are upset, we are depressed by the whole situation. We expected different results,” said passenger Volkan Atilkan, sitting near a ferry terminal in Istanbul. “God willing, we will win this victory in the second round.”

‘World Leader’

In contrast, Erdogan supporters cheered as the results filtered down, with cyber security engineer Fayez Balcu, 23, hoping Erdogan could fix Turkey’s economic woes.

“Erdogan winning the election is very important for all Turkish people. He is a world leader and all Turks and Muslims want Erdogan as president,” he said.

The prospect of another five years in office for Erdogan will upset civil rights activists campaigning to reform the damage they say he has done to Turkey’s democracy.

If the opposition wins, thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released.

Stocks fell, the lira hit a two-month low, sovereign dollar bonds fell and the cost of insuring Turkey’s debt rose. Analysts expressed concern over uncertainty and diminishing prospects for a return to economic policy orthodoxy.

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“Erdogan now has a clear psychological lead against the opposition,” Teneo co-chairman Wolfgang Piccoli said. “Erdogan will double down on his national security-centric narrative over the next two weeks.”

The election was closely watched in Europe, Washington, Moscow and across the region, where Erdogan asserted Turkish power while strengthening ties with Russia and putting pressure on Ankara’s traditional alliance with the United States.

Erdogan is one of President Vladimir Putin’s key allies and his strong-arm play will embolden the Kremlin but alarm the Biden administration and many European and Middle Eastern leaders who have had troubled relations with Erdogan.

The Kremlin said Monday it expects Russia’s cooperation with Turkey to continue and deepen regardless of who wins the election.

Lowered resistance

Political uncertainty is expected to weigh on financial markets over the next two weeks. The lira hit a fresh two-month low against the dollar overnight, weakening to 19.70 before recovering to 19.645 by 0600 GMT.

The cost of insuring Turkey against default on its sovereign debt rose to a six-month high, rising 105 basis points (bps) to 597 bps from Friday’s levels, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The opposition hoped to benefit from voter anger over economic problems after the unconventional policy of low interest rates fueled the lira crisis and rising inflation. The government’s slow response to the February earthquakes, which killed 50,000 people, was expected to sway voters.

Kilicdaroglu, 74, has pledged to restore democracy after years of state repression, return to orthodox economic policies, empower institutions that lost autonomy under Erdogan and rebuild fragile ties with the West.

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Critics fear that Erdogan will rule even more autocratically if he wins another term. The 69-year-old president, the oldest of a dozen electoral victories, says he values ​​democracy.

Reporting by Mehmet Emin Kaliskan, Jonathan Spicer, Ken Cesar, Tom Westbrook; Written by Darren Butler; Editing by Tom Perry and Gareth Jones

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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