Turkey parties squabble as crucial vote count seesaws

Tensions rise over differing reports of which presidential candidate was in the lead in knife-edge elections.

Istanbul, Turkey – As Turkey’s election night drew on, both sides claimed to be ahead in the vote count and quarrelled about the presentation of ballot figures.

The opposition directed their complaints at the data published by the state-run Anadolu news agency, claiming it was slowing the count to put their candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu trailing President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Anadolu’s figures shortly before 11pm (20:00 GMT) showed Erdogan, who is seeking a further five-year term after 20 years in power, at 50.13 percent, enough to win him the presidential race in the first round and avoid a runoff.

Kilicdaroglu, the candidate of a six-strong alliance led by his Republican People’s Party (CHP), was at 44.09 percent.

However, figures from the Anka news agency showed Erdogan’s lead as much narrower, with the president at 48.87 percent and Kilicdaroglu with 45.38 percent of the national vote.

Anadolu then updated its data, reporting Erdogan’s share of votes at 49.94 percent.

It put Kilicdaroglu at 44.4 percent, with the gap between the two frontrunners shrinking. With Erdogan dropping below the more than 50 percent mark needed to win the election outright, it makes a runoff vote more likely in two weeks.

A supporter reacts during a rally at the Republican People's Party (CHP) headquarters as voters await election results in Ankara, Turkey May 14, 2023. REUTERS/Yves Herman
A supporter reacts during a rally at the Republican People’s Party (CHP) headquarters as voters await election results in Ankara, Turkey on May 14, 2023 [Yves Herman/Reuters]

Earlier, two senior figures from the CHP – Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu and his Ankara counterpart Mansur Yavas – heavily criticised Anadolu’s role in the election.

“We are experiencing another Anadolu Agency case,” Imamoglu said. “The agency’s reputation is below zero. They should not be trusted. Anadolu’s data is null and void.”

Yavas added: “They mislead our nation by running the ballot boxes that work for them,” he said. “They do not feel ashamed either. They have no credibility … According to the data we have, our President Kemal Kilicdaroglu is ahead.”

Omer Celik, spokesperson for Erdogan’s AK Party, accused the mayors of trying to usurp the ballot.

“They made a very grave statement,” he said. “They’re attacking Anadolu Agency and declaring an election result. This is a dictatorial approach. It is an attempt to assassinate the national will.”

Kilicdaroglu just kept it simple, tweeting earlier: “We are ahead.”

Turkey’s opposition has accused Anadolu of manipulating the timing of its results in past elections, claiming that it always shows an early lead for the AK Party and delays voting figures for areas where the opposition is strong.

In a statement on Twitter, Erdogan called for his party workers to keep watch over the ballot boxes until the results were officially finalised – a refrain more commonly heard from the opposition on election nights.

Meanwhile, the race’s third candidate, Sinan Ogan of the right-wing ATA Alliance, appeared to be gathering more votes than expected. Both Anadolu and Anka showed him at more than 5 percent, a significant achievement for a relatively unknown figure.

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