ISTANBUL: Turkey’s biggest election of its post-Ottoman era confounded pollsters and threw up surprises that underscored the difficulty of gauging the mood of the sharply polarised country.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came within a fraction of a percentage point of defeating secular challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in the first round.
Neither one’s ability to break the 50-percent threshold sets up a historic May 28 runoff — Turkey’s first — that Erdogan enters as the strong favourite.
Kilicdaroglu’s performance was the opposition’s best of Erdogan’s two-decade rule.
But the 74-year-old former civil servant had to assume the role of consoler-in-chief instead of president-elect on Monday.
“Don’t despair,” he told his despondent supporters.
AFP looks at Sunday’s main surprises.
“It’s the economy, stupid,” strategist James Carville famously told future US President Bill Clinton when trying to come up with a battle plan for his 1992 election campaign.
Turkey’s case proved that mantra had caveats.
Erdogan entered the election battling Turkey’s worst economic crisis since the 1990s.
The official annual inflation rate touched 85 percent last year. The unofficial one calculated by economists — and trusted by most Turks — approached 200 percent.
Erdogan fought it by refusing to drop his unconventional theories and instead handed out incentives and pay rises to various segments of the population.
Analysts estimate the cost of his pledges at billions of dollars.
“The last-minute spending promises — like the 45-percent wage hike for 700,000 public servants — have helped,” said Verisk Maplecroft analyst Hamish Kinnear.
“Erdogan’s promise to rebuild areas devastated by the earthquake also appears to have cut through to voters.”
Erdogan maintained high levels of support in almost every region hit by the deadly February disaster.
Turkey’s long-repressed Kurdish community accounts for almost a fifth of the population and more than 10 percent of the vote.
It largely supported Erdogan