Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Sunday that the Turkish public has mandated him as president according to unofficial results. The main opposition, however, said it was too early to call a victory.
Tayyip Erdogan had 52.8 percent of the vote with 95 percent of the votes counted in Turkey's presidential election on Sunday, broadcasters said. Muharrem Ince, the main opposition's presidential candidate, stood at 29.9 percent nationwide, television channels said.
If no candidate wins more than 50 percent in Sunday's vote, a second round run-off will be held on July 8.
polling station worker holds a ballot for Turkey's presidential election at a polling station in the mainly-Kurdish city of Diyarbakir, southeastern Turkey, June 24, 2018. Emre Tazegul/AP
Erdogan said that the public has granted a parliamentary majority to his alliance of parties, adding that he hopes nobody will damage democracy by casting a shadow on the elections and the results to hide their own respective failures.
Early results had been expected to give Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party a strong lead - one that could shorten as more votes are tallied across the nation of 81 million people.
Turkey's main opposition said it was too early to call a victory for Erdogan in Sunday's presidential election, as votes from the largest cities were still not counted, adding the contest would go to a second round.
Bulent Tezcan, the spokesman for the main opposition CHP, made the comments at a news conference, citing what he said was the party's own data.
Tezcan said only 39 percent of the votes were counted and that Erdogan won 51.7 percent of the votes in the presidential elections.
Voters began gathering outside polling centers to cast their ballots in the elections that complete Turkey's transition to a new executive presidential system that was approved in a controversial referendum last year.
Irregularities have been reported at voting stations in southeast Turkey. Videos posted Sunday on social media appeared to show people voting in bulk at a ballot box in the town of Suruc, in Sanliurfa province, where four people were killed in a violent fight that erupted ahead of Turkey's parliamentary and presidential elections.
Six people were arrested for allegedly insulting Erdogan ahead of a campaign rally by his main opponent, according to Turkey's state-run news agency. Insulting the president is a crime punishable by up to four years in prison.
Erdogan, 64, is seeking re-election for a new five-year term with vastly increased powers under the new system, which he insists will bring prosperity and stability to Turkey, especially after a 2016 failed coup attempt. His ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is hoping to retain its majority in parliament.
Erdogan — who has been in power since 2003 — is however facing a more robust and united opposition, which has vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances. It has decried what it calls Erdogan's "one-man rule."
Five candidates are running against Erdogan in the presidential race. Although Erdogan is seen as the front-runner, he must secure more than 50 percent of the vote for an outright win on Sunday. Polls show Erdogan falling short of a first-round victory in the presidential race but he would be expected to win a run-off on July 8, while his AK Party could lose its parliamentary majority, possibly heralding increased tensions between president and parliament.
Erdogan's main challenger is 54-year-old combative former physics teacher Muharrem Ince, who is backed by the center-left main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, and has wooed crowds with an unexpectedly engaging election campaign. His rallies in Turkey's three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir drew massive numbers.
Addressing a rally in Istanbul on Saturday attended by hundreds of thousands of people, Ince promised to reverse what he and opposition parties see as a swing towards authoritarian rule under Erdogan in the country of 81 million people.
"If Erdogan wins, your phones will continue to be listened to ... Fear will continue to reign ... If Ince wins, the courts will be independent," said Ince, adding he would lift Turkey's state of emergency within 48 hours of being elected.
Also challenging Erdogan is 61-year-old former interior minister Meral Aksener. The only woman candidate, she broke away from Turkey's main nationalist party over its support for Erdogan and formed the center-right and nationalist Good Party.
Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, was forced to run his campaign from prison, where he is being held in pre-trial detention on terrorism-related charges. Demirtas maintains his imprisonment is politically-motivated.
In a final appeal for votes in a video clip from his high security prison, Demirtas said: "If the HDP fails to get into parliament, all Turkey will lose. Backing the HDP means supporting democracy."
Turkey will also be electing 600 lawmakers to parliament — 50 more than in the previous assembly. The constitutional changes have allowed parties to form alliances, paving the way for Ince and Aksener's parties to join a small Islamist party in the "Nation Alliance" against Erdogan.
The pro-Kurdish HDP was left out of the alliance and needs to pass a 10 percent threshold to win seats in parliament. If the party passes the threshold, it could cost Erdogan's AKP and its nationalist ally in the "People Alliance" dozens of seats — leading it to lose its parliamentary majority.
More than 59 million Turkish citizens — including 3 million expatriates — are eligible to vote in the elections, which were called more than a year earlier than scheduled in what analysts say was a pre-emptive move by Erdogan ahead of a possible economic downturn.
Turkey has been under emergency rule - which restricts some personal freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with emergency decrees - for nearly two years following an abortive military coup in July 2016.
Erdogan blamed the coup on his former ally, U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, and has waged a sweeping crackdown on the preacher's followers in Turkey. The United Nations say some 160,000 people have been detained and nearly as many more, including teachers, judges and soldiers, sacked.
The president's critics, including the European Union which Turkey still nominally aspires to join, say Erdogan has used the crackdown to stifle dissent. Few newspapers or other media openly criticise the government and he has received far more election coverage than other presidential candidates.
Erdogan, who defends his tough measures as essential for national security, told his supporters at rallies on Saturday that if re-elected he would press ahead with more of the big infrastructure projects that have helped turn Turkey into one of the world's fastest-growing economies during his time in office.