Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday emerged from his toughest election test unbowed and in a strong position to extend two decades of his Islamic-rooted rule by another five years in a historic May 28 runoff.
The 69-year-old leader defied pollsters and his country’s most dire economic crisis since the 1990s to come within a fraction of a percentage point of winning Sunday’s presidential ballot.
His right-wing party also retained control of parliament through an alliance with ultranationalists on a drama-filled night that concluded with Erdoğan delivering a victory speech from a balcony to jubilant supporters.
He even won in regions hit by two powerful earthquakes in February that claimed more than 50,000 lives — and where anger at the government’s slow response to Turkey’s worst disaster of modern times was seething.
“A staggering win for Erdoğan,” emerging markets economist Timothy Ash said in a note to clients.
“He has the magic dust at these times. And he just gets Turks — the nationalist, socially conservative and Muslim ones.”
‘Very high risk’
The main opposition party led by Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu confronted the reality Monday that they were unable to beat Erdoğan at one of his most vulnerable moments.
“Don’t despair,” Kılıçdaroğlu told his supporters. “We will stand up and take this election together.”
Turkey’s election officials Monday confirmed that there would be a second round because the remaining uncounted votes could not swing the outcome.
Erdoğan secured 49.5 percent of the vote and Kılıçdaroğlu picked up 44.9 percent.
Nationalist candidate Sinan Oğan — a former member of a far-right party now allied with the government — had 5.2 percent.
Official turnout reached a record 88.9 percent.
The markets were depressed and Erdoğan’s supporters ecstatic.
The lira dropped to new lows against the dollar, and stocks on the Istanbul exchange fell on the realization that the era of Erdoğan’s unconventional economics may not be over.
“We think Turkey is now at very high risk of an increase in macroeconomic instability,” the Capital Economics consultancy said.
The view was far different in the more nationalist and conservative corners of Turkey.
“The people won!” the right-wing Yeni Şafak newspaper proclaimed in a banner headline.
The pro-government Sabah daily called Erdoğan’s performance a “superb success.”
Erdoğan supporter Hamdi Kurumahmut was brimming with confidence the morning after the night of Turkey’s biggest election of its post-Ottoman era.
“Erdoğan is going to win. He is a real leader. The Turkish people trust him. He has a vision for Turkey,” Kurumahmut told AFP in Istanbul.
“There are things that need to be improved, on the economy, education or the refugee policy. But we know he’s the one who can sort all that out,” the 40-year-old tourism sector worker added.
Some Kılıçdaroğlu supporters tried to stay positive.
“I don’t want to even think about a scenario in which Erdoğan wins,” Emin Serbest said as the last votes were being counted.
“If Kılıçdaroğlu wins … a beautiful time awaits us,” said the 33-year-old Istanbul municipality worker.
‘Identity, terrorism and security’
But most analysts feel that Kılıçdaroğlu and his six-party opposition alliance will have a difficult time halting Erdoğan’s momentum over the coming two weeks.
“The president is likely to ride his strong approval rating, surprise win in parliament, and incumbency advantages to secure re-election,” said Emre Peker of the Eurasia Group consultancy.
His ruling alliance’s similarly strong performance in the legislative polls suggests “identity, terrorism and security issues played well with Erdoğan’s broader conservative base and helped the president make up for his economic shortcomings,” he added.
Political risk consultant Anthony Skinner said Sunday’s result underscored the difficulty of trying to gauge public opinion in the strongly polarized nation of 85 million people.
“Many pre-election public opinion poll results did not reflect Erdoğan’s resourcefulness and the degree of support he still enjoys in the country,” the veteran Turkey watcher said.
“It just goes to show how careful one needs to be when looking at public opinion polls prior to elections.”
© Agence France-Presse