Turkey’s nail-biting national elections has left us on a cliff-hanger. Over 99 percent of votes have been counted but the question of whether Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s 20-year rule could finally be coming to an end remains unanswered. 

The presidential election is heading for a run-off in two weeks time after the country’s longest serving leader came just short of declaring an outright victory. Erdogan, who heads the (self-describing) conservative-democrat AKP party, swept up 49.5% of the vote, just under the 50% required to win in the first round.

The 69 year-old’s solid lead is disappointing to his main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who secured 44.89% of the vote. With the Turkish Lira at record lows and inflation running at 44%, in so small part due to Erdogan’s unorthodox economic policies, many pollsters thought his rival had the edge and could even win outright. 

His challenger – the 74 year-old Kilicdaroglu – heads the secular, social democratic CHP, Turkey’s oldest political party. The opposition leader had presented this election as a choice between democracy and dictatorship, promising that his six-party alliance will undo the constitutional changes Erdogan imposed to dramatically extend his power following a failed coup against him in 2016. 

Yet Kilicdaroglu’s mission to topple the incumbent leader was complicated by a third candidate – ultranationalist Sinan Ogan of the right-wing ATA Alliance – who performed stronger than expected, picking up  5.17% of the vote. 

Kilicdaroglu did prevail in some key cities. In Istanbul, 48% cast a vote for the opposition leader, compared to 46% who voted for Erdogan – while in Ankara, the divide was 47% and 46% respectively. Kilicdaroglu also secured a strong majority in Kurdish-dominated cities in the South-east, largely thanks to Kurdish anger at the Turkish government after the breakdown of the peace process. 

However the extent to which Turks in quake-hit regions in the South remained loyal to Erdogan has surprised many. Despite anger at the government’s slow response to – and complicity in – the deadly earthquakes in February which killed over 50,000, Erdogan has maintained his base of support in these traditionally AK Party strongholds. In Kahramanmaras, the epicentre of the earthquake, over 71 percent backed the incumbent leader. 

Kilicdaroglu remains defiant in his bid to become Turkey’s 13th president: “If our nation says second round, we will absolutely win in the second round,” he declared today. Yet clawing back Erdogan’s five-point lead will be tough. 

Both candidates are now vying to sweep up the 5% of votes that went to the ultranationalist Sinan Ogan. And Ogan is yet to come out in support of either frontrunner. 

The right-wing leader won’t throw his weight behind either candidate before demanding some tough preconditions. Ogan wants firm assurances on a range of issues, including fighting terrorism and the return of Syrian refugees. And, in a message directed at Erdogan, the 55 year-old has also said that constitutional protections to ensure Turkey’s secular principles are necessary to secure his support. 

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