ANKARA (Reuters) – Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party took the lead in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections on Sunday, according to preliminary partial results, boosting the president’s hopes of extending his 15-year rule.
However, the early results had been expected to give Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted party a strong lead and it was expected to shorten as more votes are tallied across the nation of 81 million people.
With about half of votes counted in the presidential race, Erdogan had 57 percent, well ahead of his closest rival, Muharrem Ince, of the main opposition, secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), on 29 percent, broadcasters said.
If no presidential candidate wins more than 50 percent in Sunday’s vote, a second round run-off will be held on July 8.
An AK Party official said it expected Erdogan to win the election outright in the first round with at least 51 percent.
In the parliamentary contest, the AK Party had 47 percent, based on 40 percent of votes counted, broadcasters said. The CHP had 19 percent and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) 9 percent.
Turnout nationwide was high at around 87 percent for both contests, the state broadcaster said.
Sunday’s vote ushers in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Erdogan and backed by a small majority of Turks in a 2017 referendum. Critics say it will further erode democracy in the NATO member state and entrench one-man rule.
CHP party spokesman Bulent Tezcan criticized state media coverage of the election results, saying they were trying to manipulate the public’s perception of the results in order to demoralize Erdogan’s opponents and encourage election monitors to stop scrutinizing the counting of votes.
Tezcan said the CHP’s own voting tally suggested that support for Erdogan remained below the 50 percent required to win the presidency in the first round.
Opposition parties and NGOs have deployed up to half a million monitors at ballot boxes to ward against possible electoral fraud. They have said election law changes and fraud allegations in the 2017 referendum raise fears about the fairness of Sunday’s elections.
Erdogan said there had been no serious voting violations.
“Turkey is staging a democratic revolution,” he told reporters after casting his own vote in Istanbul on Sunday.
“With the presidential system, Turkey is seriously raising the bar, rising above the level of contemporary civilizations.”
Erdogan, the most popular but also divisive leader in modern Turkish history, argues the new powers will better enable him to tackle the nation’s economic problems – the lira has lost 20 percent against the dollar this year – and crush Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighboring Iraq and Syria.
He brought forward the elections from November 2019, but he reckoned without Ince, a former physics teacher and veteran CHP lawmaker, whose feisty performance at campaign rallies has galvanized Turkey’s long-demoralised and divided opposition.
Turkey has been under emergency rule – which restricts some freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with decrees – for nearly two years since an attempted coup in 2016.
Erdogan blamed the coup on his former ally, U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, and has waged a sweeping crackdown on his followers in Turkey, detaining some 160,000 people, according to the United Nations.
The president’s critics, including the European Union which Turkey still nominally aspires to join, say Erdogan has used the crackdown to stifle dissent.
Ince told a rally on Saturday he would lift the state of emergency within 48 hours of being elected president. He also vowed to reverse what opposition parties see as Turkey’s swing towards authoritarian rule under Erdogan.
“This is no longer a Turkey we want. Rights are violated, democracy is in terrible shape,” said health sector worker Sema, 50, after voting in Istanbul.
She and others in the city said they voted for the pro-Kurdish HDP, hoping it would exceed the 10 percent threshold of votes needed to enter parliament. If it does so, it will be harder for the AKP to get a majority.
The AK Party official said it expected the HDP to pass the 10 percent threshold. An HDP lawmaker, Garo Paylan, forecast 11 to 12 percent for his party.
Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Gulsen Solaker, Ali Kucukgocmen, Ezgi Erkoyun, Can Sezer, David Dolan, Daren Butler and Dominic Evans; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing By Jon Boyle