Turkey's runoff election: Is this the end of the Erdogan era? Here's everything to know about the vote

Incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will go head-to-head with leftist opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu on Sunday, after both failed to reach the threshold to win in May 14’s election.

A middle-aged man puts a yellow ballot through a slot into a clear plastic bucket, with three election staff sitting at tables behind him.
A Turkish citizen living abroad votes at the Turkish House in New York on Thursday in the second round of Turkey's presidential election. (Selcuk Acar/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Millions of people in Turkey will take to the polls again on Sunday to vote in a presidential election runoff between the increasingly autocratic President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the leader of the opposition coalition, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. Turkey is in the middle of a major economic crisis, and following two devastating earthquakes earlier this year, a lot is at stake for the country’s citizens and their future. If Erdogan wins, he will rule until 2028 — spending over 15 years in Turkey’s seat of power.

First-round election results

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the microphone.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaking in Istanbul on Thursday. (Arif Hudaverdi Yaman/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

As reported by Yahoo News partner the Guardian, the results on May 14 came as a surprise after Erdogan exceeded expectations in the election, gaining 49.5% of the vote. Skyrocketing inflation, suspected terrorist attacks and February’s earthquakes had called his competence into question, and many commentators predicted his imminent political demise. But in the weeks leading up to the election, Erdogan and the nationalist alliance he leads managed to mobilize conservative voters around the country and make significant headway. Despite outperforming expectations, however, he failed to reach the 50% threshold required to secure a first-round victory, prompting an election runoff.

Erdogan’s opponent, Kilicdaroglu, who leads the center-left Republican People’s Party, received 44.9% of May 14’s vote. “Do not fall into despair,” Kilicdaroglu told his supporters on Twitter, via translation. “We will stand up and take this election together.”

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Kilicdaroglu is part of a six-party coalition known as the Nation Alliance, which has come together to battle Erdogan’s 20-year authoritarian rule. The alliance has vowed to restore parliamentary democracy in Turkey — reversing the presidential system Erdogan introduced in 2018, which abolished the office of prime minister after 98 years.

Sinan Ogan, the leader of the far-right Nationalist Movement Party, came in third in the presidential race, picking up 5.2% of the vote. Though he was immediately eliminated from the vote, he was dubbed the “kingmaker,” given the share of the votes he received. On Monday, Ogan threw his support behind Erdogan and the People’s Alliance. “We believe that our decision will be the right decision for our country and nation,” Ogan said.

The runoff

Kemal Kilicdaroglu at the microphone, at a podium marked, in Turkish: For Turkey, Decide!
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People's Party and the presidential candidate of the Nation Alliance, speaking in Adana, Turkey, on Thursday. (Eren Bozkurt/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The Telegraph notes that this is the first time in Turkey’s history that the presidential election has come down to a runoff. The first-round result indicated a clear drop in public support for Erdogan compared with previous elections. Speaking outside his party’s headquarters in Ankara, Erdogan said that although the results were not yet finalized, this did not change the fact that “we are the preference of our nation.”

Why this election is so important

A woman wearig a gold watch and two bracelets riffles through a stack of green ballots, with a small stack of cards bearing the likenesses of Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu.
A clerk counts ballots on Wednesday at the Turkish Embassy in Washington, D.C., after voting ends in the second round of the presidential election. (Celal Gunes/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Whoever is elected as Turkey’s next president will oversee serious domestic and international issues that will ultimately affect the country’s population. Turkey is a member of NATO, and the next president will also have a say in the future of the military alliance — both as to who can join and how the organization reacts to any potential attacks on member states. Domestically, Turkey is still suffering from the devastating earthquakes and aftershocks that hit its southern region in February. Towns and cities were left in mountains of rubble, and it is estimated that close to 2 million people have migrated from the disaster zones.

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Interviews with young people in Turkey conducted by AFP found that most felt they had no future at home. "Young people have no more hope,” engineering student Hasibe Kayaroglu said after the first vote. “Every night, the only thing we talk about with my roommate is how to leave.”

When do the polls open?

With the minarets of a mosque in the background, people cross a huge empty plaza.
Banners of Kilicdaroglu in Istanbul on Thursday, ahead of the May 28 runoff. (Umit Bektas/Reuters)

Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu have spent the past two weeks campaigning for Sunday’s second vote. Polls will open across the country at 8 a.m. in Turkey (1 a.m. ET) on Sunday and will close at 5 p.m. (10 a.m. ET). The final results are expected to be announced by Monday.