Sunday, 22 July, 2018

Turkey votes in pivotal test for Erdogan

Erdogan seeks to cement power in Turkey's high-stakes votes Erdogan leads in Turkey’s presidential election – preliminary results
Charlie Simmons | 24 June, 2018, 23:20

Turks are voting in twin legislative and parliamentary elections which are seen as the toughest test President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has undergone at the ballot box.

But he faces a serious challenge from Muharrem Ince of the CHP, the Republicans People Party. If a candidate wins just over 50 percent of the vote, he will win the presidency, but if not, there will be a runoff on July 8.

With 90 percent of votes counted in the presidential race, Erdogan had 53 percent, comfortably ahead of Ince on 30 percent, broadcasters said.

CHP party spokesman Bulent Tezcan criticised state media coverage of the election results, saying they were trying to manipulate the public's perception of the results in order to demoralise Mr. Erdogan's opponents and encourage election monitors to stop scrutinising the counting of votes.

A supporter of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan waves a flag in front of a Turkish flag, in front of Turkey's ruling AK Party (AKP) headquarters in Istanbul, Turkey, June 24, 2018.

Polling stations opened at 0500 GMT (10.30 IST) and were due to close at 1400 GMT (7.30pm IST), with the first results expected late in the evening.

Earlier on Sunday, a crowd of Erdogan's supporters chanted his name as he emerged from a school after voting in Turkey's largest city Istanbul, shaking hands with people amid tight security.

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Erdogan called the snap elections, bringing forward a vote that was expected to be held in November 2019.

After leaving the polling station, he told reporters that Turkey would rise "above the level of contemporary civilizations" with the introduction of the presidential system.

Opposition parties and NGOs have deployed up to half a million monitors at ballot boxes to ward against possible electoral fraud.

The president's critics, including the European Union which Turkey still nominally aspires to join, say Mr. Erdogan has used the crackdown to stifle dissent.

Erdogan, the most popular but also divisive leader in modern Turkish history, argues the new powers will better enable him to tackle the nation's economic problems - the lira has lost 20 per cent against the dollar this year - and deal with Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighbouring Iraq and Syria. If the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) wins seats by polling over the 10 percent minimum threshold, the AKP will struggle to keep its overall majority.

The president had for the last two years ruled under a state of emergency imposed in the wake of the 2016 failed coup, with tens of thousands arrested in an unprecedented crackdown, which cranked up tensions with the West. Erdogan accused his late ally and now nemesis, US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, of masterminding the coup. He won nearly 10 percent of the vote in the last election, and if he were to get a bigger percentage this time, the ruling coalition may lose its majority.

"Turkey", he said, "is staging a democratic revolution".

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