Turkey’s poll numbers fell sharply on Sunday after the main opposition coalition accused state media of “deceiving” the public by favoring Recep Tayyip Erdogan over rival Kemal Kilidaroglu.
Both Erdogan and Kilidaroglu have said they are leading the race and have warned against drawing conclusions from early vote counts.
But by midnight in Turkey, no side had crossed the 50 percent mark needed to win the race, suggesting the presidential election will go to a second round in two weeks.
According to figures compiled by the state-run Anadolu news agency, Erdogan won less than 50 percent of the vote, based on 89 percent of ballot boxes counted. In contrast, Anka, another news agency tabulating the results, has Kılıçdaroğlu at 45 percent and Erdogan at 49 percent based on 90 percent of ballot boxes.
Kılıçdaroğlu’s allies on Sunday contested the data provided by Anadolu, saying the calculations omitted areas where opposition parties did well and that Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) was slowing the counting process by raising objections in opposition strongholds.
“My advice is to ignore the Anadolu Agency numbers because they are trying to deceive you,” Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu said on Sunday.
İmamoğlu described Anadolu’s reputation as “below zero”, citing past examples of the agency giving government candidates a large lead in the early stages of vote counting.
Ankara’s mayor and another leading opposition official, Mansur Yavas, said each major candidate had about 47 percent of the vote, but many votes remained uncounted in major cities.
AKP spokesman Ömer Çelik defended Anadolu, saying it was an important source for election reporting and that the “attacks” by Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican Party (CHP) amounted to “propaganda”. He said it was too early to announce a winner and called for patience.
“Regardless of the election results, we have a tradition of respecting the results. “You have a tradition of not honoring decisions through coups, memoranda and the exercise of the judiciary,” Selig said of the CHP.
Erdogan and Kilidaroglu both took to Twitter to tell party officials tasked with monitoring the ballot boxes not to leave their posts — a sign of how tight the results of the race will be. “I ask all my prosecutors and colleagues to stay at the ballot boxes, no matter what, until the results are officially finalized,” Erdogan said.
To the chagrin of both main candidates, presidential hopeful Sinan Ogun, who broke away from the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement Party, won about 5 percent of the vote, according to Anka and Anatoly figures. His vote percentage is significant because it will prevent a second election.
Polling stations across Turkey were bustling after more than 60 million people registered to vote in the presidential and parliamentary elections.
Erdogan, who first led the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to power in 2002, faced a tough campaign as he clashed with Kılıçdaroğlu. The results will have global repercussions as NATO-member Turkey has played an increasingly important role on the international stage in recent years.
Kılıçdaroğlu promised to revive Turkey’s ailing economy, bring the country closer to the West’s orbit, and restore key institutions that had been undermined during Erdogan’s long tenure, first as prime minister and then as president.
The 74-year-old opposition leader has continued to campaign alongside other popular politicians who are part of the “Six Table” coalition, including Imamoglu and Yavas.
Opinion polls released ahead of Sunday’s election gave Kılıçdaroğlu an edge over his 69-year-old opponent, with Erdogan’s handling of the country’s $900bn economy hurting his support.
But analysts and even senior opposition officials cautioned against underestimating Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics like no other figure since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the republic a century ago.
Erdogan, who attended evening prayers at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia mosque and made his final campaign stop on Saturday, remains popular among conservative, devout voters in Turkey’s Anatolian heartland.
At fiery campaign rallies, Erdogan cast himself as the only politician who could secure a prosperous future for Turkey and protect family values. On Saturday, Kılıçdaroğlu also accused US President Joe Biden of working with US President Joe Biden to defeat him, without presenting evidence.
Kılıçdaroğlu, meanwhile, called on voters to “change the destiny of Turkey” by voting for his opposition coalition.
Turks also voted in parliamentary elections on Sunday that could shake the balance of power. A coalition between Erdogan’s AKP and the ultranationalist Nationalist Movement party has a majority in the legislative branch.