Erdogan faces major test as Turks vote for president, parliament

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A woman casts her ballot for Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections at a polling station in Yalova, Turkey on June 24, 2018. Reuters

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turks voted yesterday in presidential and parliamentary elections that pose the biggest ballot box challenge to Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AK Party since they swept to power more than a decade and a half ago.

The vote will also usher in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Mr 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.

More than 56 million people were registered to vote at 180,000 ballot boxes across Turkey. Voting began at 8 am (0500 GMT) and ended at 5 pm (1400 GMT).

President Erdogan, the most popular but also divisive leader in modern Turkish history, moved the elections forward from November 2019, arguing the new powers would better enable him to tackle the nation’s mounting economic problems – the lira has lost 20 percent against the dollar this year – and deal with Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighboring Iraq and Syria.

But he reckoned without Muharrem Ince, the presidential candidate of the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP), whose feisty performance at campaign rallies has galvanised Turkey’s long-demoralised and divided opposition.

Opposition parties and NGOs have said they were deploying half a million monitors at ballot boxes to prevent fraud. They argue changes in the election law and allegations of fraud in the 2017 referendum raise fears about the fairness of the vote.

Polls show Mr Erdogan falling short of a first-round victory in the presidential race but he would be expected to win a run-off on July 8, while his AK Party could lose its parliamentary majority, possibly heralding increased tensions between president and parliament.

Eight political parties are participating in the parliamentary elections and six candidates, including Mr Erdogan, are running for president.

The president is directly elected by voters. If no candidate obtains over 50 percent of the votes in the first round, a second round will take place on July 8.

Meanwhile, lawmakers are chosen in only one round from lists prepared for each of Turkey’s 81 provinces. The 600 seats are allocated in proportion to the number of votes the lawmaker candidate receives.

Mr Erdogan has served as president since 2014. Before that, he served as prime minister from 2003 to 2014. Should he win the June 24 elections, Mr Erdogan would be Turkey’s first leader under the presidential system.

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