Turkey braced Monday for its first election runoff after a night of high drama showed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan edging ahead of his secular rival but failing to secure a first-round win.
Erdogan sounded triumphant as he emerged before a sea of supporters shortly after midnight to proclaim himself ready to lead the nation for another five years.
Almost complete results from Turkey’s most important election of its post-Ottoman era showed Erdogan — in power since 2003 and undefeated in more than a dozen national votes — falling just short of the 50-percent threshold needed to win.
“I wholeheartedly believe that we will continue to serve our people in the coming five years,” the 69-year-old leader said to huge cheers.
He also claimed his Islamic ruling party and its ultranationalist allies had captured a clear majority in parliament.
Figures from the Anadolu state news agency showed Erdogan picking up 49.3 percent of the vote.
Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was trailing with 45.0 percent — a disappointing outcome after late pre-election polls had shown him in the lead.
Turkey’s first presidential runoff in the mostly Muslim but officially secular state’s 100-year history is planned for May 28.
Kilicdaroglu’s camp had initially contested the vote count and claimed to be ahead.
But the 74-year-old looked slightly despondent as he faced reporters early Monday and admitted that a runoff seemed inevitable.
“If our nation says second round, we will absolutely win in the second round,” he said.
“The will for change in the society is higher than 50 percent.”
The lira fell against the dollar and euro on investor disappointment that Erdogan’s era of unconventional economics may not be over.
Reported turnout approached 90 percent in what has become a referendum on Turkey’s longest-serving leader and his Islamic-rooted party.
Erdogan has steered the nation of 85 million through one of its most transformative and divisive eras.
Turkey has grown into a military and geopolitical heavyweight that plays roles in conflicts from Syria to Ukraine.
The NATO member’s footprint in both Europe and the Middle East makes the election’s outcome as critical for Washington and Brussels as it is for Damascus and Moscow.
Erdogan is lionised across swathes of conservative Turkey that witnessed a development boom during his rule.
More religious voters are also grateful for his decision to lift secular-era restrictions on headscarves and introduce more Islamic schools.
“The most important thing is that we do not divide Turkey,” Istanbul voter Recep Turktan told AFP after casting his ballot.
“We will carry out our duty. I say, go on with Erdogan,” the 67-year-old said.