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    Contested Finale Ahead as Turkey’s Elections Reach Knife-Edge Vote


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    Turkey’s presidential election is set for a nail-biting finale as state media gives Recep Tayyip Erdogan an early advantage while the opposition claims to be leading. Anadolu state news agency showed the 69-year-old picking up nearly 50% of the vote, with his secular rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu trailing with 43%. Erdogan’s supporters had begun to celebrate outside his Islamic-rooted party’s headquarters in Istanbul as the vote count progressed. But most of Anadolu’s votes appear to be coming from heavily pro-government districts and Erdogan’s lead is shrinking as the number of counted ballots grows.

    The election night drama reflects the massive stakes involved. Turnout was expected to approach 90% in what has become a referendum on Turkey’s longest-serving leader and his Islamic-rooted party. Erdogan has steered the nation of 85 million through one of its most transformative and divisive eras in the post-Ottoman state’s 100-year history. Turkey has grown into a military and geopolitical heavyweight that plays roles in conflicts from Syria to Ukraine. The NATO member’s footprint in both Europe and the Middle East makes the election’s outcome as critical for Washington and Brussels as it is for Damascus and Moscow.

    Erdogan’s first decade of economic revival and warming relations with Europe was followed by a second one filled with social and political turmoil. He responded to a failed 2016 coup attempt with sweeping purges that sent chills through Turkish society and made him an increasingly uncomfortable partner for the West. The emergence of Kilicdaroglu and his six-party opposition alliance gives foreign allies and Turkish voters a clear alternative.

    A runoff on May 28 could give Erdogan time to regroup and reframe the debate but he would still be hounded by Turkey’s most dire economic crisis of his time in power and disquiet over his government’s stuttering response to the February earthquake that claimed more than 50,000 lives.

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