Turkey's crucial presidential election is likely to go to a run-off after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan failed to get the 50 per cent votes required for an outright win.
Erdogan, who is at the helm for the last 20 years and is seeking another term, could only garner 49.3 per cent of the votes of the 97.95% of votes counted. His main rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the joint candidate of a six-party opposition alliance, got 45 per cent, reported the state-run Anadolu news agency.
However, the 69-year-old President expressed confidence that he could win the elections. Kilicdaroglu, the leader of Turkey's main opposition party, too sounded upbeat as he proclaimed his party's "absolutely win in the second round."
The third candidate, Sinan Ogan, received 5.28% of the votes with speculation rife within political circles that he could end up a kingmaker in a run-off. Ogan has already tweeted that "Turkish nationalists and Ataturkists are in a key position for this election."
If confirmed, the run-off could be held on May 28. Though it is still uncertain that Erdogan could take the lead in the run-off, the President had done better than expected. Initial predictions were that Kilicdaroglu could even win outright without a run-off.
Erdogan's prospects were dimmed by criticisms over the economic situation and cost-of-living crisis with 44% inflation. Besides his unorthodox economic policies, the President also faced blame for the delayed response to the earthquakes in February that killed more than 50,000 people in 11 provinces.
The vote was being closely watched against the backdrop of the war, especially in Moscow and Europe. Turkey has strategic significance due to its location, which has a coast on the Black Sea to the north, and neighbours Iran, Iraq and Syria to the south.
Erdogan's actions were also a matter of concern for the West for its close ties with Russia amid the Ukraine invasion.
As in previous years, Erdogan led a highly divisive campaign in his bid to stretch his rule into a third decade. He portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who had received the backing of the country's pro-Kurdish party, of colluding with terrorists and of supporting what he called deviant LGBTQ rights.
In a bid to woo voters hit hard by inflation, he increased wages and pensions and subsidised electricity and gas bills, while showcasing Turkey's homegrown defence industry and infrastructure projects.
Kilicdaroglu, for his part, campaigned on promises to reverse crackdowns on free speech and other forms of democratic backsliding, as well as to repair an economy battered by high inflation and currency devaluation.
The election results showed that Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party was also set to retain its majority in the 600-seat parliament, although the assembly has lost much of its legislative power after a referendum to change the country's system of governance to an executive presidency narrowly passed in 2017.
(With inputs from PTI)