Erdogan takes early lead in Turkey runoff
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan took an early lead today in a historic runoff election that could extend two decades of his dominant but divisive Islamic style of rule until 2028.
The official Anadolu state news agency showed Erdogan leading his secular opposition rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu by nine percentage points with more than 70 percent of the vote counted.
But his advantage was narrowing as more results came in and a rival count published by the pro-opposition Anka news agency showed the two candidates locked in a dead heat.
The Nato member's longest-serving leader defied critics and doubters by emerging with a comfortable lead against his secular challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the first round on May 14.
Kilicdaroglu cobbled together a powerful coalition that grouped Erdogan's disenchanted former allies with secular nationalists and religious conservatives.
Opposition supporters viewed it as a do-or-die chance to save Turkey from being turned into an autocracy by a man whose consolidation of power rivals that of Ottoman sultans.
"I invite all my citizens to cast their ballot in order to get rid of this authoritarian regime and bring true freedom and democracy to this country," Kilicdaroglu said after casting his ballot in Turkey's first presidential runoff.
69-year-old Erdogan looked tired but at ease as he voted with his wife Emine in a conservative district of Istanbul.
"I ask my citizens to turn out and vote without complacency," he said.
Kilicdaroglu re-emerged as a transformed man after the first round.
The former civil servant's message of social unity and freedoms gave way to desk-thumping speeches about the need to immediately expel migrants and fight terrorism.
His right-wing turn was targeted at nationalists who emerged as the big winners of the parallel parliamentary elections.
The 74-year-old had always adhered to the firm nationalist principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk -- a revered military commander who formed Turkey and Kilicdaroglu's secular CHP party.
But these had played a secondary role in his promotion of socially liberal values practised by younger voters and big-city residents.
Analysts question whether Kilicdaroglu's gamble will work.
His informal alliance with a pro-Kurdish party that Erdogan portrays as the political wing of banned militants left him exposed to charges of working with "terrorists".
And Kilicdaroglu's courtship of Turkey's hard right was hampered by the endorsement Erdogan received from an ultra-nationalist who finished third two weeks ago.
Some opposition supporters sounded defeated after emerging from the polls.
"Today is not like the last time. I was more excited then," Bayram Ali Yuce said in one of Istanbul's heavily anti-Erdogan neighbourhoods.
"The outcome seems more obvious now. But I still voted."
Erdogan is lionised by poorer and more rural swathes of Turkey's fractured society because of his promotion of religious freedoms and modernisation of once-dilapidated cities in the Anatolian heartland.
"It was important for me to keep what was gained over the past 20 years in Turkey," company director Mehmet Emin Ayaz told AFP in Ankara.
"Turkey isn't what it was in the old days. There is a new Turkey today," the 64-year-old said.
But Erdogan has caused growing consternation across the Western world because of his crackdowns on dissent and pursuit of a muscular foreign policy.
His personal relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin has also survived the Kremlin's war on Ukraine.
Erdogan also delayed Finland's membership of Nato and is still refusing to let Sweden join the US-led defence bloc.
Turkey's unravelling economy will pose the most immediate test for whoever wins the vote.