Turkey’s Erdogan claims election victory, opposition wary

With 96% of votes counted in the presidential race, Erdogan had 53%.
Sunday 24/06/2018
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) waves to supporters in Istanbul on June 24. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (C) waves to supporters in Istanbul on June 24. (AFP)

ANKARA – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party claimed victory in Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary polls on Sunday, overcoming the biggest electoral challenge to their rule in a decade and a half.

However, the main opposition party said it was too early to concede defeat and said it believed Erdogan could still fall short of the 50% needed to avoid a presidential runoff on July 8.

“Our people have given us the job of carrying out the presidential and executive posts,” Erdogan said in a short national address, even as votes were still being counted.

“I hope nobody will try to cast a shadow on the results and harm democracy in order to hide their own failure.”

Erdogan, 64, the most popular but also the most divisive politician in modern Turkish history, later waved to cheering, flag-waving supporters from the top of a bus in Istanbul.

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.

An unexpectedly strong showing by the AK Party’s alliance partner, the nationalist MHP, could translate into the stable parliamentary majority that Erdogan seeks to govern freely.

“This sets the stage for speeding up reforms,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted of the results.

In early trading in Asia the lira currency firmed modestly versus the dollar on hopes of increased political stability.

Erdogan’s main presidential rival, Muharrem Ince of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) urged election monitors to remain at polling stations to help ensure against possible election fraud, as final results came in from large cities where his party typically performs strongly.

With 96% of votes counted in the presidential race, Erdogan had 53% , comfortably ahead of Ince on 31% , broadcasters said.

The opposition raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the figures released by state-run Anadolu news agency, the sole distributor of the official vote tally.

Opposition supporters carried bags full of ballot papers they said had not been counted, video clips circulating on social media showed. Up to 300 people chanted “Thief Tayyip!” inside the CHP party headquarters in Ankara.

Opposition parties and NGOs 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.

In Sunday’s parliamentary contest, the Islamist-rooted AK Party won 43% and its MHP ally 11% , based on 98% of votes counted, broadcasters said.

In the opposition camp, the CHP had 23% and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) 11% – above the threshold it needs to reach to enter parliament.

The HDP’s presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, waged his election campaign from a prison near the Greek border as he awaits trial on terrorism-related charges, which he denies.

Election turnout nationwide was very high at around 87% for both contests, the state broadcaster said.

“Turkey is staging a democratic revolution,” Erdogan 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 civilisations.”

Erdogan argues that his new powers will better enable him to tackle the nation’s economic problems – the lira has lost 20% against the dollar this year – and crush Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

Investors would welcome the prospect of a stable working relationship between the president and the new parliament, although they also have concerns about Erdogan’s recent comments suggesting he wants to take greater control of monetary policy.

Erdogan has declared himself an “enemy of interest rates”, raising fears he will pressure the central bank to cut borrowing costs after the election despite double-digit inflation.

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 held Sunday’s elections under a state of emergency declared after a failed military coup in July 2016. This limits some freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with decrees. Both Erdogan and Ince have said they will lift the state of emergency as president.

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.

Erdogan says his tough measures are needed to safeguard national security. 

(Reuters)