Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu are in a runoff within the presidential election

Supporters of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan wave flags in front of the AK Party headquarters after polling stations closed in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections May 15, 2023 in Ankara, Turkey.

Adam Altan | Afp | Getty Images

Turkey’s presidential election could be heading for an unprecedented runoff as neither 20-year incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor his challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu had claimed an outright victory Monday morning.

With the economy struggling, tensions with Russia and NATO, and fears of a slide toward authoritarianism, the election in the deeply divided country of 85 million could hardly come at a more crucial time.

To win the highly explosive race, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the votes. If no one crosses that threshold, there will be a runoff election in two weeks, on May 28th.

After more than 99% of the vote was tallied as of 8 p.m. ET Sunday, Erdogan leads with 49.46% of the vote, while Kilicdaroglu, who has vowed to bring about change and economic reform,, has 44.79% according to the Supreme Electoral Council of Turkey (YSK).

Erdogan and his conservative, Islam-based Justice and Development Party (AKP) are confident. “We firmly believe that we will continue to serve our nation for the next five years,” he told a crowd of supporters late Sunday night.

Meanwhile, Kilicdaroglu, who represents a united front of six different opposition parties all seeking to replace Erdogan, vowed to win the election in a second round.

“Despite all his slanders and insults, Erdogan could not achieve the result he expected. The election cannot be won on the balcony. Data is still coming in,” Kilicdaroglu said late Sunday night.

Economic crisis, geopolitical tensions

The conservative, religious and nationalist Erdogan was Prime Minister of Turkey from 2003 to 2014 and President from 2014. He rose to prominence as mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s and was praised in the first decade of the new millennium for making Turkey an economic powerhouse for emerging economies.

But recent years have been far more challenging for the religiously conservative leader, as his own economic policies triggered a cost-of-living crisis that left Turks struggling to afford basic goods.

Tensions between Turkey and the West are rising, and international and domestic voices have criticized Erdogan’s government for implementing increasingly autocratic measures such as crackdowns on protesters, forced closures of independent media and dramatic expansions of presidential power.

“It is a moment of great concern,” a political analyst told CNBC, as many in the country worry about the possibility of violence or instability if the election results are contested by the losing candidate or his supporters.

This is an evolving story and will be updated shortly.

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