Erdogan leading with 49.4 pct of votes as Turkey prepares for runoff

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s opponents face an uphill struggle to end his two-decade rule of Turkey in a runoff vote on May 28 after he performed better than predicted in a first round of voting on Sunday but fell short of an outright majority.

Turks woke on Monday to see support for Erdogan just below the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid sending the NATO-member country to a second round of a presidential election viewed as passing judgement on his autocratic rule.

Pro-government media cheered the outcome, with Yeni Safak newspaper proclaiming “The people won,” referring to Erdogan’s People’s Alliance that appeared to have won a majority in parliament, potentially giving him a crucial edge in the presidential runoff.

“The winner has undoubtedly been our country,” Erdogan said in a speech to his cheering supporters at the headquarters of his ruling AK Party in the capital Ankara overnight.

Going into the election, the opposition had sensed its best chance yet of unseating Erdogan, encouraged by polls showing him trailing his main challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu. But the results suggested Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party had been able to rally conservative voters despite a cost-of-living crisis.

Kilicdaroglu, head of a six-party alliance, vowed to prevail in the runoff and accused Erdogan’s party of interfering with the counting and reporting of results, calling on his supporters in the country of 84 million to be patient.

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