The greatest election in Turkey's post-Ottoman history surprised voters and pollsters alike, highlighting how difficult it is to predict public opinion in such a divided nation.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a secular contender, was one percentage point away from beating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the first round.
The first ever runoff election in Turkey will be held on May 28 if no candidate can pass the 50% barrier, and Erdogan will go into it as the clear favorite.
During Erdogan's two-decade tenure, Kilicdaroglu's performance was the opposition's finest.
However, on Monday, the 74-year-old ex-civilian worker was forced to act in the capacity of president-in-chief instead.
He urged his depressed fans, “Don't give up.”
AFP examines the major shocks from Sunday.
THE ECONOMY WASN'T THE PROBLEM.
When attempting to come up with a strategy for his 1992 election campaign, strategist James Carville reportedly informed future US President Bill Clinton, “It's the economy, stupid.”
The Turkey instance demonstrated the limitations of this maxim.
Erdogan faced the biggest economic crisis Turkey has seen since the 1990s when he ran for office.
Last year, the official annual inflation rate reached 85%. The unofficial estimate, which was determined by economists and was accepted by most Turks, was close to 200 percent.
Erdogan resisted it by holding with his unorthodox beliefs and giving different population groups incentives and salary raises.
His commitments are expected to cost billions of dollars, according to analysts.
According to Verisk Maplecroft analyst Hamish Kinnear, “the last-minute spending promises, like the 45 percent wage increase for 700,000 public servants, have helped.”
Voters seem to have taken Erdogan's pledge to restore earthquake-devastated districts seriously.
In practically every area affected by the horrific tragedy in February, Erdogan retained strong levels of popularity.
The long-repressed Kurdish minority in Turkey makes up approximately a fifth of the population and more than 10% of the electorate.
In the first ten years of his leadership, it mostly backed Erdogan, but in the second, it turned against him.
Kilicdaroglu's official endorsement by the major pro-Kurdish party, according to some observers, may have given him the edge.
Erdogan, however, used it against him by accusing the opposition of receiving instructions from the PKK Kurdish group.
“Erdogan's strategy of linking the opposition to the PKK and the terrorist movement paid off,” stated Bayram Balci of the CERI Sciences Po institute.
Leyla Gurler, an Istanbul housewife, expressed her worries over the opposition courting of the pro-Kurdish HDP party.
The HDP and the PKK, according to the 57-year-old, “would have been responsible if the opposition had triumphed.” “They stood with the PKK as one. There, they blundered.
– “UNADULTERED ULTRANATIONALISM” – Erdogan's prospects on May 28 are aided by the surprising ascent of ultranationalist Sinan Ogan, who was previously unknown.
As an independent, the 55-year-old received 5.1 percent of the vote.
He once belonged to an ultra-nationalist party that is a part of Erdogan's legislative coalition and speaks for supporters of the Turkish president rather than the leftist Kilicdaroglu.
Nationalism has been a “constant” element of Turkish politics throughout the 1990s, according to analyst Umut Ozkirimli.
Various nationalist and far-right organizations received 22% of the vote in the parliamentary election held on Sunday.
Political risk analyst Anthony Skinner said that the fact that Sinan Ogan received more than 5% of the vote “underlines that pure ultranationalism is well and alive in Turkey.”
If Ogan chooses to back the centrist Kilicdaroglu in the second round of the presidential election, it would be unexpected. Erdogan is expected to win on May 28.
– BIASED POLLSTER – One of the greatest losers of the day was Turkey's polling industry.
Only a tiny percentage anticipated Erdogan would win. Some predicted a 10-point lead for Kilicdaroglu.
Emerging markets economist Timothy Ash said, “Staggering how bad the polls and most of the secular analysts were in calling this one.”
The longtime observer of Turkey ascribed it to the natural political bias of pollsters in a nation with fiercely divided and firmly held opinions.
“I have to say that all the analysts I trust, who are closer to the (ruling party), were saying 50-50, too close to call, with a bias to Erdogan.”
According to Skinner, Kilicdaroglu's party spent a portion of Sunday night asserting its lead in the polls and contesting the results reported by official media.
Officials from the opposition still need to justify their early optimism in the voting process. Were their models inherently defective or was there another factor at work? said Skinner to AFP.