The dreams of Turkey’s opposition gave way to crushing disappointment on Sunday as President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan narrowly won a historic runoff election to extend his two-decade rule to 2028.
Opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu entered the country’s first-ever runoff as the clear underdog after Erdoğan came within a whisker of winning outright in the first round on May 14.
Yet his supporters harbored hopes that the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader could oust the Islamic-rooted conservative president against all the odds.
After all, Kılıçdaroğlu picked up more votes against Erdoğan than any other opposition leader, denying him a first-round victory for the first time in his dominant rule.
“A miracle is still possible,” 32-year-old shop worker Ersin Avcı had told AFP in İstanbul while voting continued.
“We still have a bit of hope that we will win and get our Turkey back.”
But as the first ballot boxes were emptied for the count at an İstanbul school used as a polling station, a heavy silence descended on the mostly CHP observers in the room.
The tension was palpable. Halis Firet, a CHP election observer at the polling station in one of İstanbul’s pro-opposition neighborhoods, said emotions ran so high during the vote that police had to intervene.
A police car remained parked in the school courtyard to survey the scene during the tallying of votes.
“We’ve called on everybody to calm down before the counting,” said Firet, a 56-year-old painter.
A monotonous blanket of grey clouds hung over İstanbul throughout Sunday, a reflection of the opposition’s gloomier spirits for Turkey’s first-ever runoff election.
Rain began to fall just before the first official results gave Erdoğan a sizeable lead.
At the CHP’s Ankara headquarters, spokesman Faik Öztrak was in a sour mood during his first press conference of the evening.
He refused to take questions and left after a brief speech, a marked difference from his bullish remarks and vigorous contestation of the first-round vote count.
Earlier on Sunday, queues at polling stations in opposition strongholds in Istanbul and Ankara seemed lower than in the first round, AFP journalists saw.
That boded ill for Kılıçdaroğlu, who needed to mobilize more voters, especially among the young and in Kurdish areas, to have any hope of defeating Erdoğan.
“Today is not like the last time. I was more excited then. The outcome seems more obvious now,” Bayram Ali Yüce, 45, said in one of İstanbul’s heavily anti-Erdoğan neighborhoods.
In the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır in the southeast, pessimistic housewife Fahriye Kaçmaz lamented that nothing would change, even before the results emerged.
“We do not have any expectations. We actually have no hope… everything is useless,” the 30-year-old told AFP.
‘The right man’
The scene outside Erdoğan’s presidential palace was a complete contrast, with joyful music booming out of loudspeakers and a huge Turkish flag unfurled as the president edged closer to victory.
Elated AKP voters congregated outside the building waving Turkish flags and banners bearing Erdoğan’s face while delighted motorists honked their car horns in a deafening crescendo audible from the CHP’s base.
“Our people chose the right man. I expect Erdoğan to add more to the good things he had already done for our country,” 17-year-old Nisa Sivaslıoğlu told AFP in the Turkish capital.
The president addressed a rapturous audience in İstanbul after it became clear he had won a third mandate as president while celebratory fireworks exploded above.
In contrast, CHP supporters in Ankara had gathered outside their party’s headquarters to watch the results trickle in on a big screen, their faces a picture of anxiety as their hopes ebbed with the setting sun.
With over 99 percent of the ballots counted at around 9:00 pm (1800 GMT), official results showed Erdoğan vanquishing his rival by 52 percent to 48 percent.
The opposition’s dream was dead.
© Agence France-Presse