Turkey: Erdogan faces test in critical elections | News | DW | 24.06.2018
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Turkey: Erdogan faces test in critical elections

Incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is leading the polls with more than 90 percent of ballot boxes opened. But observers and opposition parties have warned of irregularities at polling stations across the country.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday claimed victory in presidential and parliamentary elections, saying: "The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty."

State media reported that Recep Tayyip Erdogan had picked up 52.8 percent of the vote with more than 95 percent of the ballot boxes opened. His nearest rival, Muharrem Ince, garnered 30.8 percent.

Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) picked up 42 percent of the vote with more than half of the ballots counted in the parliamentary elections. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) has so far garnered 23 percent.

The pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) has picked 11 percent, just making it to enter parliament. Voter turnout was 87.5 percent for the presidential and parliamentary elections.

But the CHP has accused state media of manipulating public perception by publishing figures, saying that only a fraction of ballots cast have even been entered into the electoral commission's vote counting database.

"Don't believe the figures you see on the TV screens, even if the number of boxes opened reached 100 percent," said CHP lawmaker Mustafa Balbay. "It's vital that we see the number of valid votes."

Read more: Could Turkey's opposition reset ties with the EU?

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan after casting his vote

Recep Tayyip Erdogan is hoping to extend his hold on power as the country transitions to an executive-style presidential system

'Blows, threats  and attacks'

Reports have emerged of voting irregularities. Election monitors in the southeastern province of Sanliurfa were kept away from polling stations with "blows, threats and attacks," according to CHP spokesman Bulent Tezcan.

State-run Anadolu news agency reported that 10 foreigners were arrested for allegedly posing as election observers, including three Germans in the southeastern Sirnak province.

Read more: Germany's Angela Merkel keeps Turkey at arm's length

A French delegation of the Communist party was arrested, including Senator Christine Prunaud. "Turkish authorities want to snuff out any criticism of the massive fraud underway," said a statement from the party.

Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) spokesman Thomas Rymer told DW that 320 OSCE election observers are actively monitoring the voting process. Rhymer said the organization will provide an initial assessment of the situation on Monday.

Contentious vote

The vote takes place after changes to Turkey's constitution were approved last year, reshaping the country's presidential system.

Sunday's elections are set to pose the biggest challenge to Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party since they came to power more than a decade and a half ago. It should also test the strength of the opposition, which has rallied its supporters in great numbers in the final days of the campaign.

President Erdogan, who has not lost an election in 16 years, had moved the elections forward from November 2019 to this Sunday.

Under the new constitution, the election marks a new era of enhanced powers for the office of the presidency for whoever is elected.

Read more: Opinion: Turkey election must result in rebirth of a nation

Erdogan likely to be re-elected

Erdogan is seen as the frontrunner and is largely expected to win. Even if he is not able to gather enough votes to seal a victory this Sunday, he is still likely to come out on top in a second round, on July 8.

But the margin of victory is now said to be much thinner than he had expected when he called for the vote to take place 1 1/2 years ahead of schedule.

Erdogan, a master of political rhetoric, who has won a dozen elections, is now running against a backdrop of increasing economic problems. Chief among them are double-digit inflation, concerns over a sharp rise in basic staples like potatoes and onions, and the 25-percent loss in value of the Turkish lira against the US dollar.

Read more: Could Turkey's opposition reset ties with the EU?

On the other hand, opposition candidate Ince of the CHP has seen a rise in popularity during the later stages of the campaign. With impassioned campaign speeches and a commanding presence on stage, Ince could be the candidate that faces Erdogan in a possible second round.

A former physics teacher who has served as MP for 16 years, Ince surprised the field when he gathered hundreds of thousands of supporters at his rallies in Turkey's three main cities — Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul — on a scale not seen in recent years at opposition rallies.

Choosing a new parliament

Along with the pivotal presidential vote, Turks will elect 600 lawmakers to the parliament. Eight parties, but also independent candidates, are competing for five-year-term posts.

The new constitution expanded the Turkish parliament by 50 seats and now allows parties to form alliances in the legislature. This will allow smaller allied parties to bypass the minimum 10 percent threshold that a single party must clear to enter the parliament.

As a result, five of eight contending parties are running both individually and as part of two alliances: the "People Alliance," comprised of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, the Nationalist Movement Party and the small far-right Great Unity Party, and the "Nation Alliance" consisting of the secular Republican People's Party, the nascent nationalist Good Party, the small Islamic-leaning Felicity Party, and the small center-right Democrat Party.

Of note is the fact that the pro-Kurdish liberal Peoples' Democratic Party was left out of the opposition alliance and now will need to pass the 10 percent threshold on its own.

Read more: Why many Turks in Germany voted 'yes' in Erdogan's referendum

Muharrem Ince casts his vote

Opposition presidential candidate Muharrem Ince saw a massive spike in support ahead of the elections

Worries of possible fraud

The changes to the electoral laws have raised fears of fraud. Additionally, the new law allows for security forces to be called to polling stations.

Citing security reasons, authorities have relocated thousands of polling stations in predominantly Kurdish eastern and southeastern provinces, a change that will affect some 144,000 voters, by forcing them to travel further to cast ballots. Some would also have to go through military checkpoints.

Another concern is that ballot papers that carry a watermark but do not have the ballot box committee's official stamp will be considered valid. This feature had led to allegations of fraud during last year's referendum.

The elections count on the monitoring of more than 300 foreign election observers from 44 countries under the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE). But in the last days, the government of Turkey has singled out and revoked many individual observers' right to entry.

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Presidential elections – Erdogan’s biggest challengers

ls,jcg/jm (dpa, AFP, EFE, AP)

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