Erdogan Closes In On Victory In Historic Turkey Runoff

(MENAFN- Gulf Times) Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory Sunday in a historic runoff election that posed the toughest challenge of his two-decade rule.
"We will be ruling the country for the coming five years," Erdogan told his cheering supporters from atop a bus in his home district in Istanbul. "God willing, we will be deserving of your trust."
The 69-year-old leader faced down Turkiye's biggest economic crisis in generations and a united opposition to take a commanding lead.
The official Anadolu state news agency showed Erdogan ahead of his secular opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu by four percentage points, with 97 percent of the vote counted.
A separate count published by the pro-opposition Anka news agency showed Erdogan leading by a similar margin.
NATO member Turkiye's longest-serving leader was tested like never before in what was widely seen as the country's most consequential election in its 100-year history as a post-Ottoman republic.
Kilicdaroglu cobbled together a powerful coalition that grouped Erdogan's disenchanted former allies with secular nationalists and religious conservatives.
He pushed Erdogan into his first runoff on May 14 and narrowed the margin further in the second round.
Opposition supporters viewed it as a do-or-die chance to save Turkiye from being turned into an autocracy by a man whose consolidation of power rivals that of Ottoman sultans.
"I invite all my citizens to cast their ballot in order to get rid of this authoritarian regime and bring true freedom and democracy to this country," Kilicdaroglu said after casting his ballot in Turkiye's first presidential runoff.
Erdogan looked tired but at ease as he voted with his wife Emine in a conservative district of Istanbul, telling citizens to "turn out and vote without complacency."
Emir Bilgin heeded the Turkish leader's call.
"I'm going to vote for Erdogan. There's no one else like him," the 24-year-old said from a working-class Istanbul neighbourhood where the young future president grew up playing street football.
Kilicdaroglu re-emerged a transformed man after the first round.
The former civil servant's message of social unity and freedoms gave way to desk-thumping speeches about the need to immediately expel migrants and fight terrorism.
His right-wing turn was targeted at nationalists who emerged as the big winners of the parallel parliamentary elections.
The 74-year-old had always adhered to the firm nationalist principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- a revered military commander who formed Turkiye and Kilicdaroglu's secular CHP party.
But these had played a secondary role to his promotion of socially liberal values practised by younger voters and big-city residents.
Analysts questioned whether Kilicdaroglu's gamble would work.
His informal alliance with a pro-Kurdish party that Erdogan portrays as the political wing of banned militants left him exposed to charges of working with "terrorists".
And Kilicdaroglu's courtship of Turkiye's hard right was hampered by the endorsement Erdogan received from an ultra-nationalist who finished third two weeks ago.
Some opposition supporters sounded defeated after emerging from the polls.
"Today is not like the last time. I was more excited then," Bayram Ali Yuce said in one of Istanbul's anti-Erdogan neighbourhoods.
"The outcome seems more obvious now. But I still voted."
Erdogan is lionised by poorer and more rural swathes of Turkiye's fractured society because of his promotion of religious freedoms and modernisation of once-dilapidated cities in the Anatolian heartland.
"It was important for me to keep what was gained over the past 20 years in Turkiye," company director Mehmet Emin Ayaz told AFP in Ankara.
"Turkiye isn't what it was in the old days. There is a new Turkiye today," the 64-year-old said.
But Erdogan has caused growing consternation across the Western world because of his crackdowns on dissent and pursuit of a muscular foreign policy.
He launched military incursions into Syria that infuriated European powers and put Turkish soldiers on the opposite side of Kurdish forces supported by the United States.
His personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has also survived the Kremlin's war on Ukraine.
Turkiye's troubled economy is benefiting from a crucial deferment of payment on Russian energy imports that helped Erdogan spend lavishly on campaign pledges this year.
Erdogan also delayed Finland's membership of NATO and is still refusing to let Sweden join the US-led defence bloc.


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