BRUSSELS: 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.

“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 on Turkiye’s long moribund bid for eventual EU membership.

Turkiye now faces its first presidential runoff vote after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan 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 Kilicdaroglu 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 Erdogan, who has ruled Turkiye since 2003, and decided talks were at a standstill in 2018, citing backsliding in democratic and judicial reforms.

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

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