With first-round vote tallies appearing to show Turkey heading to a runoff presidential election, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed confidence Monday he will prevail while top rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu said he will “absolutely win the second round.” 

Erdogan, who has been in power for 20 years and is the country’s longest-serving leader, performed better than had been expected, but fell short of the 50% threshold needed to win in Sunday’s vote.   

With more than 99.4% of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan led with 49.4% of votes and Kilicdaroglu had 45%, Ahmet Yener, the head of the Supreme Electoral Board, told reporters. 

Some overseas ballots were yet to be counted.  A runoff election, if necessary, would take place May 28.   

More than 64 million people, including the overseas voters, were eligible to vote Sunday and nearly 89% voted, according to The Associated Press.    

Both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu claim the election is the most important in the country’s history.       

With inflation at more than 40% and people experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, the economy was seen as the most crucial issue for many voters.     

Erdogan has turned the government into a powerful executive presidency that allows him to rule by decree.  

Critics blamed such centralized powers for failing to react swiftly to February’s deadly earthquakes that claimed more than 50,000 lives, a charge Erdogan denies.  

However, Kilicdaroglu is pledging to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy.  

Erdogan insists his executive powers are vital, given that the country is in a neighborhood of turmoil.    

In his last campaign speech Friday, Erdogan accused U.S. President Joe Biden of trying to oust him from power through the elections.   

Washington has said it does not take sides in elections.    

Relations between Turkey and its traditional Western allies have become strained in recent years over Ankara’s deepening ties with Moscow and concerns over democracy.  

Kilicdaroglu is vowing a reset with Turkey’s Western allies.     

Some information for this report came from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.