EU chiefs congratulate Turks on ‘massive’ vote turnout

European Council President Charles Michel (R) and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen deliver a joint press conference at the end of the first day of a European Union (EU) summit over video conference at The European Council Building in Brussels on March 25, 2021. Aris OIkonomou / AFP / POOL

EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel congratulated Turkish voters on their large turnout in the first round of national elections, hailing this as a win for democracy, Agence France-Presse reported.

“It’s a very clear sign that the Turkish people are committed to exercising their democratic rights to go and vote and that they value the democratic institutions,” von der Leyen said.

Michel also congratulated “Turkish citizens” on their turnout, but neither of Brussels top two officials would be drawn into discussing Turkey’s long stalled bid for EU membership.

The turnout for Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary elections was reported as 85.6 percent.

Turkey now faces its first presidential runoff vote after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan failed to secure a first round re-election in Sunday’s national polls.

The 69-year-old nevertheless did better than expected and could extend his two-decade grip on power on May 28, after neither he nor opposition leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu reached the 50 percent threshold.

Ankara applied to join the European Union in 1987, was declared eligible to begin formal membership talks in 1999 and negotiations began in 2005, only to flounder over the status of Cyprus.

European leaders have had tense relations with Erdoğan, who has ruled Turkey since 2003, and decided talks were at a standstill in 2018, citing backsliding in democratic and judicial reforms.

Kılıçdaroğlu has pledged to improve ties with Brussels with a view to relaunching the membership ambition, but the EU chiefs were careful not to be drawn into the tight race.

“The elections are still open. We have to see the second round. We are following very closely,” von der Leyen said.

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