What is a runoff election? How do they work in Turkey - Erdogan challenged by 2023 results

Turkey's economy, civil rights and a February earthquake that claimed more than 50,000 lives are all issues dominating this year's election

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate at the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate at the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate at the AK Party headquarters in Istanbul (Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Given how close the race is, neither the incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan nor challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu appear likely to receive 50% of the vote in Turkey's presidential election. A runoff may be necessary.

While it is still possible for results to come in the next few days - which will determine whether Erdogan maintains control of a Nato ally that straddles Europe and Asia but borders Syria and Iran or returns to the more democratic path pledged by his main rival - it's looking increasingly likely the race will be decided after a second round of voting takes place in two weeks.

Domestic issues like the economy, civil rights and a February earthquake that claimed more than 50,000 lives dominated this year's election. With the unofficial count nearly completed it appeared the incumbent had fallen below the majority needed for him to win re-election without a run-off.

Erdogan had 49.3% of the vote, while Mr Kilicdaroglu, had 45%, according to the state-run news agency Anadolu. But what is a runoff election, and how do they work? And why don't we see them here in the UK? Here is everything you need to know.

What is a runoff election?

A runoff election, also known as a second round election or a two-round system, is a type of electoral system used in some countries to determine a winner when no candidate receives an absolute majority (more than 50%) of the votes in the initial election.

In a runoff election, the top two candidates with the highest number of votes from the first round proceed to a second round of voting, usually held a few weeks after the initial election. The runoff election allows voters to choose between the two leading candidates, ensuring that the eventual winner has majority support.

Runoff elections are typically employed in systems where multiple candidates are competing for a single office, such as presidential elections, mayoral elections or parliamentary by-elections. They aim to provide a clearer mandate by ensuring that the elected candidate enjoys broader popular support.

The specific rules and procedures for runoff elections can vary between countries. Some countries require an absolute majority in the second round, while others only require a plurality (the highest number of votes). The timing between the two rounds can also vary, with some countries allowing a short period of time for campaigns and others having longer intervals.

In Turkey, the two candidates who advanced to the runoff campaign for the second round, typically held one to three weeks after the initial election. They seek to gather additional support and persuade voters who initially supported other candidates.

Are they good or bad?

Though the overall aim of a runoff election is to ensure that the elected candidate has broader popular support and a clear mandate by securing a higher number of votes than their opponent in the second round, the system is not without its drawbacks.

Conducting a runoff election requires additional resources, including time, money and logistical arrangements. Holding a second round of voting can be expensive and burdensome for both election authorities and candidates, and it extends the overall election process, potentially leading to voter fatigue and decreased voter turnout in the second round.

Some voters may feel less motivated to participate in the second round if their preferred candidate did not advance.

Since runoff elections tend to narrow the field of candidates to the top two contenders, excluding other candidates who may represent a broader range of views and perspectives, this can be seen as a disadvantage for voters who prefer candidates outside the mainstream or want more diverse options.

The possibility of a runoff can also influence voters' behaviour in the initial round. Some voters may strategically cast their votes for a less preferred candidate with a higher chance of advancing to the second round, rather than genuinely supporting their preferred candidate, distorting the representation of voters' true preferences.

Why don't we have them in the UK?

Runoff elections are not widely used in the UK for several reasons. The UK uses a First Past the Post (FPTP) electoral system for most elections, including general elections and local elections. In this system, the candidate who receives the most votes wins, regardless of whether they have an absolute majority.

The FPTP system aligns with the UK's parliamentary system, where the party that commands a majority in the House of Commons forms the government as it focuses on electing individual Members of Parliament rather than directly electing a president or executive leader.

The UK has a long history of using the FPTP system, which dates back several centuries, and has become deeply rooted in the British political tradition. As such, there is a historical reluctance to change it, though there have been debates and discussions about electoral reform, including the possibility of adopting alternative voting systems or runoff elections.

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