Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, Emine, leave a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, June 24 2018. Picture: REUTERS
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, Emine, leave a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, June 24 2018. Picture: REUTERS

Ankara — Early results in Turkey’s presidential election on Sunday showed Recep Tayyip Erdogan heading for another term as president, gaining near-absolute authority in a revamped political system. The main opposition disputed the figures, saying there were clear signs of manipulation.

With more than half of ballots counted, Erdogan had 56% of the vote to 29% for his closest challenger, Muharrem Ince of the secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, according to the official Anadolu news agency. No other candidate was above 8%.

In the parliamentary vote, Erdogan’s AK Party and its nationalist ally had 59%, to 30% for the main opposition coalition and 9.1% for the leading Kurdish party, as of 7:45 pm in Istanbul.

"We’re good," Erdogan said an hour earlier in Istanbul, though he declined to speculate on the outcome.

Ince, who had warned of the risk of vote fraud, said he was heading to the office of the electoral watchdog, ready to file any objections. In the capital Ankara, municipal trucks loaded with sand blocked a road outside Erdogan’s presidential palace.

The CHP, which placed a monitor at each polling station, said that its own early count was radically different, showing Erdogan at 47% and Ince about 40%. There were signs of "open manipulation," said deputy leader Bulent Tezcan.

Presidential power

Erdogan has presided over an economic boom that’s threatened to turn into a bust in recent months, as the currency plunged and capital fled. Under his government, Turkey’s ties with its western allies have also come under unprecedented strain, as Erdogan increasingly sided with Russia in the Syrian civil war, fulcrum of a great-power contest for Middle East influence.

In this election, which Erdogan brought forward by 18 months, victory for the incumbent does not mean no change. Last year, Erdogan drove through constitutional reforms that shift Turkey towards a US-style political system, eliminating the office of prime minister and handing the president powers to pass laws by decree, pick cabinet ministers from outside the legislature, force new elections and declare a state of emergency. If he wins, Erdogan will become the first leader to formally exercise them.

The prospect of presidential rule helped galvanise Erdogan’s rivals, who promised to undo all the changes and reinstate Turkey’s century-old traditions of parliamentary democracy. Ince and other candidates accused Erdogan of presiding over an increasingly arbitrary system in which political opponents, journalists, judges and students were at risk of landing in jail.

After surviving a coup attempt in 2016, Erdogan embarked on an unprecedented purge of the public service, judiciary and education system that sent tens of thousands to prison on charges of complicity in the alleged putsch.

The president and his allies campaigned on the contrast between today’s prosperous Turkey and the political and economic turmoil that preceded Erdogan’s rule, pointing to GDP growth rates averaging almost 6% since the AK Party came to power in 2002.