President Tayyip Erdogan led comfortably in the first round of Turkey's election on Monday, with his rival facing an uphill struggle to prevent him extending his rule into a third decade in a runoff vote on May 28.
Turkish assets weakened on the news, which showed Erdogan just below the 50% 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 cheering supporters at the headquarters of his ruling Islamist-rooted 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 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.
The prospect of Erdogan's rule entering a third decade will upset civil rights activists campaigning for reforms to undo the damage they say he has done to Turkey's democracy.
Thousands of political prisoners and activists could be released if the opposition prevails.
Turkish stocks tumbled, the lira held near a two-month low, sovereign dollar bonds fell and the cost of insuring exposure to the country's debt spiked as the election results pointed to a runoff.
The election has been closely watched in Europe, Washington, Moscow, and across the region, where Erdogan has asserted Turkish power while strengthening ties to Russia and putting strain on Ankara's traditional alliance with the United States.
Erdogan is one of President Vladimir Putin's main allies and his strong showing is likely to encourage the Kremlin but unnerve the Biden administration, as well as many European and Middle Eastern leaders who had troubled relations with Erdogan.
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