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Voting closes in Turkey’s hotly contested election that could oust President Erdogan

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Early results of Turkey’s general elections on Sunday showed a solid lead for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after nearly 20 percent of ballot boxes were counted, Turkish state news agency said.

Anadolu Agency reported that Erdogan had 55% of the vote, with main opposition leader Kemal Kilikdaroglu winning 39%.

Opinion polls show an increasingly authoritarian Erdogan running for re-election, trailing a first-time challenger.

Faik Oztrack, a spokeswoman for Kilikdaroglu’s centre-left party, said the initial withdrawal was only preliminary and that “the picture is very positive” for the opposition.

Erdogan has ruled Turkey as prime minister or president since 2003. Pre-election polls suggest he faces his toughest election campaign in 20 years leading NATO. recent years.

Voting closed at noon after nine hours of voting in general elections that could give Erdogan, 69, another five-year term or oust Kilikdaroglu, who has vowed to put Turkey back on a more democratic path. have promised.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the winner will be determined in a run-off on 28 May.

Voters also choose members to fill Turkey’s 600-seat parliament. If his political allies win, Erdogan will be able to continue to rule without many restrictions. The opposition has promised to return Turkey’s system of governance to a parliamentary democracy if Turkey wins both the presidential and parliamentary votes.

In pre-election opinion polls, Kilikdaroglu (74), a candidate from an opposition coalition of six parties, was leading by a narrow margin. He heads the centre-left pro-secular Republican Party, CHP.

More than 64 million people, including 3.4 million overseas voters, were eligible to vote in elections held in a year marking the centenary of the republic, a modern, secular state born from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. ,

Turnout in Turkey is traditionally strong, reflecting citizens’ continued faith in democratic voting.

But Turkey has seen freedom of expression and assembly under Erdogan face a severe crisis of living, with critics blaming the government for mismanagement of the economy. Contrary to conservative economic theory, the president believed that low interest rates prevented inflation and prompted the central bank to reflect on its views.

According to the latest official figures, inflation has come down from about 86% to about 44%, but independent experts believe that costs are rising at a much higher rate. The cost of vegetables became an issue in the election campaign of the opposition party, which used the onion as its election symbol.

Turkey is also reeling from the effects of a powerful earthquake in February that devastated 11 southern provinces and killed more than 50,000 people in unsafe buildings. Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its lax implementation of construction laws, which has increased casualties and misery, as well as its delayed and sluggish response to the disaster.

Internationally, the election is seen as a test of a united opposition party’s ability to oust a leader who has concentrated almost all state power in his hands.

In 2016, Erdogan survived a military coup attempt that was denounced by followers of his former ally, US-based cleric Fethullah Gülen. The effort drew a heavy crackdown from Gulen’s supporters and other critics, including pro-Kurdish politicians.

In this election campaign, Erdogan attempted to attract voters by using state resources and his dominant position in the media. He accused the opposition of being “terrorists”, “drunkards” and advocating for LGBTQ+ rights.

To garner support for citizens hard hit by inflation, he raised wages and pensions, subsidized electricity and gas bills, and showcased Turkey’s defense and infrastructure projects.

He also expanded the political coalition of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to include two nationalist parties, a small left-wing party, and two fringe Islamist parties.

Kilicdaroglu’s six-party coalition has promised to scrap the executive-presidential system, passed by a narrow margin in a 2017 referendum. The opposition coalition has also promised to restore the independence of the judiciary and the central bank and reverse the crackdown on free speech and other forms of democratic decay under Erdogan.

The coalition includes the nationalist Good Party led by former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, a small Islamist party, and two breakaway parties from the AKP led by former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

The second was led by former Finance Minister Ali Babakan.

Currently, Turkey’s second largest opposition party, the main political party in Kurds, is supporting Kilikdaloglu in the presidential elections. In recent years, the Erdogan government has targeted party leaders with arrests and prosecutions.

In the elections, many voters struggled to fold the bulky ballots (featuring 24 political parties competing for seats in Congress) and place them in envelopes with ballots for the presidential election.

Ankara voter Necati Aktuna said, “It is important for Turkey. It is important for the people.” “I’ve been voting for 60 years. I’ve never seen a more important election than this.”

Ahmet Zener, chairman of the Supreme Election Commission, said the vote ended without reports of “negative” incidents.

Kilikdaroglu said that after the vote, supporters at a school in Ankara chanted “President Kilikdaroglu!” Raised slogans of

“From now on, we will see the coming of spring in this country,” he said.

Erdogan said that voting was going on “without any problems”, with voting taking place even in areas affected by the earthquake.

“After the evening’s vote counting, I hope that there is a better future for our country, our people and Turkish democracy,” Erdogan said.

Also running for president was Sinan Ogan, a former academic backed by an anti-immigrant nationalist party. Another candidate, center-left politician Muharram Ines, dropped out of the race on Thursday after his approval ratings fell. But the National Electoral Commission said that his withdrawal was illegal and that votes would be counted against him.

Some have expressed concern over whether Erdogan would relinquish power if defeated. President Erdogan told more than a dozen Turkish broadcasters on Friday that he came to power through democracy and would act according to the democratic process.

Voting in 11 quake-affected states, with about 9 million eligible to vote, raised concerns.

About 3 million people left the earthquake area for other provinces, but only 133,000 registered to vote in the new location. Political parties and NGOs planned to bus voters, but it was not clear how many would return.

Many earthquake survivors voted at makeshift polling stations set up on the school grounds.

In Diyarbakır, a Kurdish-majority city hit by the earthquake, Ramzan Akkai arrived early to cast his vote.

“God willing, it will be a democratic election,” he said. “It can be beneficial in the name of our country.”

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