At first glance, the score of the Turkish presidential election can be interpreted as a decline in support for the incumbent president. With 49.5% of the vote, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who has been in power for twenty years, is being pushed into a second round on 28 May.
This is a first, and some may see it as an erosion of his popularity. “Erdoğan has lost” was even Monday’s headline at the Turkish daily Cumhuriyet, a newspaper historically linked to the the main opposition party (CHP). In 2014 and 2018, he was elected without much suspense in the first round, with scores of 51.79% and 52.59%. Thus, the fall is quite relative.
In contrast to the previous presidential elections, during which the opposition had sent second-tier candidates, this time Erdoğan had to face the leader of the CHP Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. Kılıçdaroğlu was the candidate of a front almost united around “anti-erdoğanism”. After a campaign that raised hopes for change in a Turkey exhausted by the economic crisis and more polarized than ever, the latter managed to gather 45% of the vote, something the opposition had never done before.
But Erdoğan has more than limited the damage. He obtained 2.5 million more votes than his opponent, and can calmly anticipate the second round.
Even if the supporters of an election fraud or rigging theory still want to believe in it, the margin remains clearly in favour of the “Reis” (“Chief”). To reach 50% and be re-elected until 2028, Erdoğan will only need a few hundred thousand more votes if the Turks go to the polls in the same proportions on 28 May.
Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, on the other hand, could have reached a glass ceiling. The third man in this presidential election, Sinan Oğan – an ultranationalist candidate, a maverick of the MHP – who obtained 5.1% of the vote, will only support him at the price of a radical nationalist turn, which will then cost him the support of the pro-Kurdish left.
The great gap between the two is untenable. The carry-over of Sinan Oğan’s electorate is likely to favour Erdoğan, who only needs a quarter of this reserve to pass.
Another factor clearly plays in favor of the incumbent. The result of the legislative elections held on 14 May gives a relative majority to the Islamo-nationalist AKP-MHP coalition in parliament – 100 more seats than the opposition. The momentum is for Erdoğan. And Turkish voters will be all the more inclined to support him in the second round as they aspire to a period of stability. A defeat of the current president seems very unlikely.
A victory in the first round, with just over 50% of the vote, would certainly not have had the same impact and would have triggered suspicions of fraud and challenges from the opposition. With this closer score, Erdoğan can see his democratic legitimacy reinforced.
A new coronation seems inevitable for Erdoğan on 28 May.
The following day—the anniversary of the capture of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453—this 21st century sultan could be celebrating a new conquest.
This article was originally published in Le Pointe and translated by FTP.