Recep Tayyip Erdogan looked on course to win re-election in Turkey last night, according to state media, but the Turkish opposition claimed the results were being manipulated in the president’s favour.
Mr Erdogan needed to win more than 50 per cent of the vote in order to win the election in one round and avoid going into a run-off against his main challenger Muharrem Ince, the candidate of the centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP).
The state-run Andalou Agency news agency reported that with 98 per cent of ballot boxes counted, Mr Erdogan had won 53 per cent of the vote and was heading towards a first round victory.
But Mr Ince accused state media of “manipulating” the results to make it appear that Mr Erdogan was racing towards victory and urged his supporters not to lose heart.
"They are giving the results from Erdogan majority areas first. I'm calling on our ballot box officials: don't be demoralised and never leave the ballots,” he said on Twitter.
Initial results also appeared to show Mr Erodgan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) holding on to its majority in parliament in coalition with a smaller nationalist party. The government coalition won 54 per cent of the vote, according to Andalou Agency, while an opposition coalition led by the CHP won 34 per cent.
If the results hold, Mr Erdogan would emerge from the election more powerful than ever before.
He pushed through a controversial referendum last year to alter the country’s constitution, giving the president sweeping authorities to dissolve parliament and exert control over the judiciary.
Having first taken power in 2003, Mr Erdogan could in theory stay in the presidential palace for another two terms until 2028, meaning he would have led Turkey for a quarter of a century
Mr Erdogan did not immediately claim victory but his AKP party warned the opposition not to dispute the results as they appeared on state media.
“This provocation is extremely damaging to our country and will have dire consequences. In particular, threatening Anadolu Agency is not acceptable,” said Mahir Unal, an AKP spokesman.
An unofficial election counting service backed by the opposition, the Fair Election Platform, contested the official results. “The data provided on television screens do not in any way reflect the truth,” the group said.
Mr Ince and the opposition had warned that the AKP might attempt to rig the election results to keep Mr Erdogan in power. There were scattered reports of AKP supporters illegally stamping ballots in favour of the president but there was no immediate sign of widespread fraud.
In one incident in the southern city of Suruc, police fired warning shots at a fleeing car and discovered four bags of ballots paper inside. A official with a nationalist party was also killed during a fight at a polling station in the eastern city Erzurum.
Turkey has a long history of fair elections dating back to the 1950s but that record was marred by allegations of ballot box stuffing during last year’s referendum.
The election night disputes capped a hard-fought snap election, which Mr Erdogan called a year early in an apparent effort to get ahead of economic problems beginning to push up prices in Turkey and deflate the value of the Turkish lira.
The election took place under the state of emergency which Mr Erdogan imposed on Turkey after a failed coup attempt against him in 2016, which left 249 people dead. The government has arrested more than 50,000 people using its emergency powers.
Among those arrested was Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party. Mr Demirtas ran for president from his prison cell, even filming a party political broadcast from jail. “This election campaign will be remembered as a black stain in our political history,” he said.
Here’s the presidential ballot. The candidates from L-R:— Raf Sanchez (@rafsanchez) June 24, 2018
1. Erdogan’s main challenger
2. An anti-Erdogan nationalist
4. Jailed Kurdish candidate
5. Islamist who was once in same party as Erdogan
6. Fringe anti-Nato candidate #TurkeyVotespic.twitter.com/vyyz9rvWcj
The HDP appeared on course to cross the 10 per cent vote threshold it needed to win seats in parliament, while Mr Demirtas got around eight per cent of the vote in the presidential election, according to state media.
Both state media and private outlets have showered Mr Erdogan with positive coverage and largely ignored the opposition. The CHP calculated that Mr Erdogan received 12 times more coverage than Mr Ince, while the smaller opposition candidates were almost ignored entirely.
Mr Ince breathed new life into the CHP, the secular party which founded the Turkish republic and once dominated the country’s politics but has lost a string of elections to Mr Erdogan since 2003.
Over the course of 107 rallies in 51 days, Mr Ince railed against Mr Erdogan in fiery terms, often pacing on top of his campaign bus as he denounced the president for losing touch with the Turkish public.
“Erdogan, you forgot your times of poverty. You forgot the victims of urban transformation, you forgot the poor,” he said. He labelled Mr Erdogan as a “white Turk”, a disparaging term for the country’s elite.
Mr Erdogan ran on his record of lifting living standards for people across Turkey during his 15 years in power and pushing aside the secular elite who once dominated Turkish politics. “We will make our country fly. We will get rid of the bureaucratic oligarchy,” he told supporters.
“I have never seen a better president than Erdogan,” said Nermin, a 74-year-old pensioner who declined to give her last name. “Before him there weren’t good roads, there was garbage everywhere, we had shortages of tap water.”