Recep Tayyip Erdogan has claimed victory in Turkey's presidential election, but the opposition called the announcement premature, as not all ballots had yet been counted.
“The Turkish public has mandated me as president according to unofficial results,” Mr Erdogan said on Sunday night. “I hope nobody will damage democracy by casting a shadow on this election and its results to hide their failure.
The official Anadolu Agency reports that with 95.5 per cent of votes counted, Erdogan had won a 52.72 per cent share of the national vote, while the opposition CHP party's candidate, Muharrem Ince, was on 30.75 per cent.
The pro-Kurdish party, known as the HDP, won more than 10 per cent of the vote, allowing them to enter parliament for a second consecutive term, diluting the majority of Mr Erdogan’s ruling party, the AKP, but falling short of the numbers needed to overturn that majority after a surprise showing by the AKP’s nationalist allies.
The results, if they stand, will be a disappointment to the opposition, which mounted a dynamic election campaign that hoped to push Mr Erdogan into a second-round run-off against Mr Ince, and to wrest control of the legislature from the AKP. Mr Erdogan and his party have governed unopposed for 16 years.
President Erdogan called early snap elections in April hoping to preempt worsening economic trends and to catch the opposition by surprise. He looked set to win easily in a presidential race and in parliament in alliance with the nationalists, projecting an image of a commander-in-chief fighting external enemies inside Turkey and across the border in Syria, and triumphant against terror groups.
But the opposition ran an energetic challenge to the status quo, with opposition presidential candidate Mr Ince drawing crowds in the hundreds of thousands in rallies in the country’s largest cities of Istanbul, Izmir and Ankara, and criss-crossing the country on dozens of rallies.
The winner of the presidential race is set to assume extraordinary new powers narrowly approved in a referendum last year that was marred by allegations of fraud. These include complete control of the cabinet and the power to appoint senior judges and officials, including unelected vice-presidents.
The president will also have the power to issue decrees with the force of law.
Those powers will allow the victor to transform Turkey’s political scene for years and possibly decades to come, governing until 2028 if they win re-election.
Opposition candidates had pledged to overturn the presidential system if they defeated Mr Erdogan, who nevertheless remained the favourite to win the race.
Turnout at the elections hovered around an extraordinary 87 per cent of the electorate, exceeding that of last year’s referendum.
Opposition officials cried foul as soon as results began coming in, with the state-run Anadolu Agency announcing preliminary results more than two hours earlier than expected and opening with a massive lead for president Erdogan and his party’s alliance in parliament.
That lead closed over time, but it prompted accusations by the opposition that the state news agency was launching a manipulation operation to influence election monitors into leaving ballot counting stations early.
For much of the count, rival vote estimates by the opposition and the state-run agency were published, the former showing Mr Erdogan winning with less than 50 per cent of the vote, and the latter showing a first-round outright victory.
The first result would lead to a second-round contest on July 8th, a possibility that would represent a major psychological blow for Mr Erdogan, even if he was tipped to win that contest as well.
The main secular opposition party, CHP, to whom Mr Ince belongs, continued to contest the results well into the count, charging that less than 40 per cent of ballot boxes had been opened, and that many of Mr Ince’s strong electoral districts had not yet been counted.
Mr Ince urged ballot count monitors to remain at their stations until the counts had been completed to protect against election fraud.
Nevertheless, Mr Erdogan appeared to be preparing for a “balcony” victory speech, and had already been congratulated on a win in the race by Hungary’s strongman leader, Victor Orban.
The election took place on an uneven playing field, against a backdrop of human rights abuses that Amnesty International described as a “climate of fear.”
One of the presidential candidates, Selahattin Demirtas, ran his presidential campaign from a prison cell in Edirne where he is on trial on terrorism charges. The government has either shuttered, bought or taken over newspapers and TV stations, transforming the vast majority of the nation's media into a loyalist press.
Thousands of people have been detained or dismissed since a coup attempt in 2016, a crackdown that has gone beyond the followers of Fethullah Gulen, the man accused of masterminding the coup from his exile in Pennsylvania, to dissidents of all stripes including academics, students who opposed military incursions into Syria, judges, bureaucrats and police and military officers.
Nevertheless, there were few incidents of apparent electoral fraud, with the exception of the province of Urfa, where some apparent attempts to rig the vote were uncovered during the course of the day. Poll stations opened at 8 am and closed at 5pm (3pm Irish time). –Guardian Service