May 16, 2023 | Flash Brief

Turkish Election Goes to Runoff With Erdogan Leading Comfortably

May 16, 2023 | Flash Brief

Turkish Election Goes to Runoff With Erdogan Leading Comfortably

Latest Developments

Turkey’s presidential election is headed to a runoff since neither the incumbent nor his challenger could secure the majority of votes in the first round of voting on May 14. The final results showed President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) with a comfortable lead of 49.5 percent compared to 44.9 for challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). The result made Erdogan, whose party and allied parties also won a majority in the parliamentary elections, the clear favorite to win his third five-year term in the coming runoff, which the Supreme Election Council announced would be held on May 28.

Expert Analysis

“If Kilicdaroglu has any chance of defeating Erdogan in the May 28 runoff, he must look and behave like a winner. He needs to mobilize his voter base and convince it the race has not been lost. This will be an uphill struggle for Kilicdaroglu, as the momentum of the election has shifted away from the opposition squarely to Erdogan’s campaign.” Sinan Ciddi, FDD Non-Resident Senior Fellow

Polls Got It Wrong

Erdogan defied expectations and pre-election poll results that predicted Kilicdaroglu — at the head of a coalition of six opposition parties known as the Nation Alliance — would win by a decisive margin. The polls reflected Erdogan’s waning popularity amid a poor economy, his incompetent handling of the aftermath of a massive earthquake on February 6, his poor health, and widespread corruption. But the polls underestimated Erdogan’s voter mobilization efforts in the campaign’s final weeks. In those final weeks, Erdogan approved bonuses for retirees, free natural gas for Turkish households, and increases to the minimum wage — incentives only an incumbent can offer.

Advantages of Incumbency

Erdogan’s unexpected rally put the opposition on its back foot. Kilicdaroglu’s stunned supporters hope he will find a novel way to reinvigorate his campaign. The emboldened Erdogan, who nearly declared victory during his speech on Sunday, is likely to use all of his advantages as an incumbent, including his ability to pressure the Supreme Election Council — having the power to appoint and remove members from their positions even during an election — and to exercise control over the media, to help extend his lead. So far, Kilicdaroglu’s campaign has no clear plan to counteract these advantages.

The third candidate in the race, Sinan Ogan, received 5.2 percent of the vote and had been courting deals from the top two candidates to throw his support behind them even before the first round of balloting. He now finds himself as a potential kingmaker. Ogan represents a far-right nationalist party that opposes making any concessions to Turkey’s Kurdish party, which supported Kilicdaroglu’s coalition exclusively.

Related Analysis

What If Erdogan Wins Next Month’s Turkish Elections?” by Sinan Ciddi

Turkey’s Opposition Picks Candidate to Challenge Erdogan,” FDD Flash Brief

Context for Turkey’s election,” by Bill Roggio, Jonathan Schanzer, and Sinan Ciddi