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Türkiye Gears for Runoff Presidential Election

FILE -Turkish CHP party leader and Nation Alliance's presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu gestures to supporters during an election campaign rally in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, May 12, 2023. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's main challenger in Turkey's presidential race shifted gear and adopted a more nationalist and hardline stance on Thursday, vowing to send back millions of refugees if he is elected and rejecting any possibility of negotiating for peace with Kurdish militants. (AP Photo/Ali Unal)

Türkiye’s landmark presidential election is heading for a runoff on Sunday, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan predicted to have a clearer edge in the upcoming showdown against Kemal Kilicdaroglu, after a third-place candidate said he would endorse the incumbent president.

This is the first time Erdogan faces a second-round runoff vote as a presidential candidate, as none of the three candidates garnered more than 50 percent of votes needed to call a winner in the first round on May 14.

Pre-election opinion polls gave a winning percentage to the opposition alliance led by Kilicdaroglu, but the scale seems to be tilting toward Erdogan after he received the open endorsement of Sinan Ogan, a nationalist candidate who won 5.17 percent of vote in the first round.

Following a fiercely contested first ballot that left Erdogan with 49.52 percent of votes, and Kilicdaroglu with 44.88 percent, the two candidates dived into even more heated public debates to prove they are the best choice to lead Türkiye.

Erdogan, 69, could likely have the advantage going forward and might extend his leadership for another five years as his ruling coalition also obtained a majority of seats in the parliamentary race on May 14, analysts say.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan wave to supporters at the headquarters of Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara, Türkiye, on May 15, 2023. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

Erdogan has secured large popular support despite economic hardships and the aftermath of devastating earthquakes in early February. He came out on top in most of the 11 quake-hit provinces where over 50,000 people died.

Voters in these regions, which are strongholds of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), have been reassured by Erdogan’s promises to rebuild cities within a year, Ankara-based political analyst Serkan Demirtas told Xinhua.

“Voters in the earthquake zone have confidence in Erdogan and his government’s experience in construction projects,” he said.

In capital city Ankara, near the landmark Atakule Tower, people told Xinhua that they are eager to vote for the candidate of their choice after the high turnout of the previous vote, which stood at 87 percent.

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) gather at the party headquarters in Ankara, Türkiye, May 14, 2023. (Photo by Mustafa Kaya/Xinhua)

“Türkiye is at a crossroads,” said pensioner Remzi Karaoguz, adding “everything will be good,” using a slogan of 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu’s campaign.

Ziya Derya, an electrical engineer, said he would vote for stability, implying that he will favor the incumbent president.

“The most important thing for me is the security and the independence of my nation … I will vote for stability because without it, nothing is possible,” said the man in his late fifties.

In videos posted on Twitter in recent days ahead of the second round of voting, Kilicdaroglu has adopted a harder tone and promised to send millions of Syrian and Afghan refugees home to win nationalist votes and defeat Erdogan.

He also said that the election ahead is a “referendum” for the future of Türkiye.

Burhanettin Duran, a scholar at Ankara’s Social Sciences University, said in an article in Daily Sabah on Friday that the opposition bloc still faces a challenge to mobilize those supporters demoralized by the initial result to cast a vote again.

This photo taken on May 7, 2023 shows a political rally held at Ataturk Airport of Istanbul, Türkiye. (Turkish Presidency/Handout via Xinhua)

Meanwhile, Erdogan said in an interview with CNN International on Saturday that he will maintain his unconventional economic model of tackling high inflation with interest rate cuts, vowing that the inflation will go down along with low rates.

Kilicdaroglu promised on the other hand to return to economic orthodoxy, which would mean massive interest rate hikes to cool inflation.