Early results from Turkey’s national election showed president Recep Tayyip Erdogan with a solid lead after nearly 20 per cent of ballot boxes were counted, the Turkish state-run news agency said.
Mr Erdogan had 55 per cent of the vote, compared to 39 per cent garnered by main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Anadolu Agency reported.
Opinion surveys indicated the increasingly authoritarian Mr Erdogan had entered his bid for re-election trailing a challenger for the first time.
Faik Oztrak, a spokesman for Mr Kilicdaroglu’s centre-left party, cautioned that the early returns were preliminary and said the “picture is extremely positive” for the opposition. Mr Erdogan has ruled Turkey as prime minister or president since 2003.
Pre-election polling suggested he faced the toughest re-election battle of his two decades leading the Nato member country, which has grappled with economic turmoil and the erosion of democratic checks-and-balances in recent years.
Polls closed in the late afternoon after nine hours of voting in the national election that could grant Mr Erdogan (69) another five-year term or see him unseated by Mr Kilicdaroglu, who campaigned on a promise to return Turkey to a more democratic path.
If no candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the vote, the winner will be determined in a May 28th run-off.
Voters also elected lawmakers to fill Turkey’s 600-seat parliament, which lost much of its legislative power under Mr Erdogan’s executive presidency.
If his political alliance wins, Mr Erdogan could continue governing without much restriction.
The opposition has promised to return Turkey’s governance system to a parliamentary democracy if it wins both the presidential and parliamentary ballots.
Pre-election polls gave a slight lead to Mr Kilicdaroglu (74) who was the candidate of a six-party opposition alliance.
He leads the centre-left, pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP.
More than 64 million people, including 3.4 million overseas voters, were eligible to vote in the elections, which come the same year as the country will mark the centenary of its establishment as a republic – a modern, secular state born on the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
Voter turnout in Turkey is traditionally strong, reflecting citizens’ continued belief in democratic balloting.
Yet Turkey has seen the suppression of freedom of expression and assembly under Mr Erdogan, and it is wracked by a steep cost-of-living crisis that critics blame on the government’s mishandling of the economy.
The country is also reeling from the effects of a powerful earthquake that caused devastation in 11 southern provinces in February, killing more than 50,000 people in unsafe buildings.
Mr Erdogan’s government has been criticised for its delayed and stunted response to the disaster, as well as a lax implementation of building codes that exacerbated the casualties and misery.
Internationally, the elections were being watched closely as a test of a united opposition’s ability to dislodge a leader who has concentrated nearly all state powers in his hands. – AP