Turkey is heading for a second round of its presidential elections, after the presidentRecep Tayyip Erdogan and opposition candidate Kemal Kiliçdaroglu won less than half the votes on Sunday after almost all ballots were counted.
With 94% of the vote counted, the conservative Erdogan69 years old, obtained 49.59% of the votes while his rival, the social democrat and secularist Kiliçdaroglu, 74 years old, 44.67%, according to the state agency Anadolu.
The official agency gave Erdogan as a favorite a few hours before. To ensure victory in the first round, candidates need at least 50% of the vote plus one. The figures can still evolve, but they open the way to a second round on May 28.
A second round would be unprecedented in that country of 85 million inhabitants, which this year celebrates the hundredth anniversary of the founding of its republic.
The opposition has already shouted victory. «We are in the lead,» tweeted Kiliçdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Leading opposition figures claimed the government was purposely slowing down the count in districts where Kilicdaroglu enjoyed strong support.
«They are challenging the count that comes out of the polls, in which we have a massive lead,» Istanbul’s opposition mayor Ekrem Imamoglu told reporters.
According to the mayor, the internal count of the opposition shows that Kiliçdaroglu obtained 49% of the votes and Erdogan only 45%.
Neither of the two counts, however, avoids the possibility of a second round in two weeks.
In a deeply divided Turkey after two decades of Erdogan in power, the contest to elect the country’s 13th president is hotly contested.
Just over 64 million people, who also elected their parliament, were called to vote. The participation rate for this Sunday has not yet been revealed, but the country usually has a participation greater than 80%.
In 2018, in the last presidential elections, Erdogan won the first round with more than 52.5% of the vote. A second round would imply a setback for him.
Good humor and a festive atmosphere abounded among voters throughout the day, which coincided with Mother’s Day in Turkey.
Wearing a blue shirt and a weary expression, Erdogan voted in Üsküdar, a conservative neighborhood of Istanbul, where he wished «a prosperous future for the country and for Turkish democracy.»
The current president did not want to give any forecast, but said the «enthusiasm of the voters», particularly in the areas most affected by the earthquake on February 6, which left at least 50,000 dead.
The opposition candidate, Kiliçdaroglu, voted shortly before in Ankara. «We have missed democracy,» he declared with a smile.
«You’ll see, spring will return to this country God willing and it will last forever,» he added, referring to one of his slogans.