Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken the lead in election results

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Early results in Turkey’s national election show President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has a solid lead after nearly 20% of ballot boxes have been counted, Turkey’s state-run news agency said.

According to Anadolu Agency, Erdogan won 55% of the vote, compared to 39% for main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the winner will be determined in a May 28 run-off. Polls show the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan entered a bid for re-election on Sunday, fending off a challenger for the first time.

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This is a breaking news update. AP’s previous story is below.

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey and much of the world waited Sunday to learn whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan survived his strongest election challenge in two decades. Leading a NATO member state mired in economic turmoil and the erosion of democratic checks and balances in recent years.

Voting in the national elections ended in the afternoon after nine hours of polling That could give the 69-year-old Erdogan another five-year term or be ousted by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a reinvigorated opposition leader who campaigned on a promise to return Turkey to a more democratic path.

If no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote, the winner will be determined in a May 28 run-off. Opinion polls show the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan has fended off a challenger for the first time and entered his bid for re-election.

Erdogan has ruled Turkey as Prime Minister or President since 2003.

Under Turkey’s electoral practice, news agencies were barred from reporting partial results until the ban was lifted at 9pm (1800 GMT). No polls were conducted.

Voters also elected lawmakers to fill Turkey’s 600-seat parliament, which lost its legislative powers under Erdogan’s executive presidency. If his political coalition wins, Erdogan will be able to continue ruling without much control. The opposition has vowed to return Turkey’s system of government to a parliamentary democracy if it wins both the presidential and parliamentary ballots.

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Pre-election polls gave Klikdaroglu a slight lead, 74, backed by a six-party opposition coalition. He heads the center-left, secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP.

More than 64 million people, including 3.4 million foreign voters, are eligible to vote in the election, which marks the centenary of the country’s founding as a republic — a modern secular state born from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. .

Voter turnout in Turkey has traditionally been strong, reflecting citizens’ continued confidence in democratic voting.

Yet Turkey has seen a crackdown on freedom of expression and assembly under Erdogan, and it has been wracked by a steep cost-of-living crisis that critics blame on the government’s mishandling of the economy. Contrary to restrictive economic theory, the president believed that low interest rates would control inflation and pressured the Fed to reflect his view.

The latest official figures showed inflation at around 86% to 44%, although independent experts believe that costs continue to rise at a higher rate. The cost of vegetables became a campaign issue for the opposition, which used the onion as its symbol.

Turkey is also reeling under the effects of a powerful earthquake It devastated 11 southern provinces in February, killing more than 50,000 people in unsafe buildings. Erdogan’s government has been criticized for its slow and staggered response to the disaster, as well as lax enforcement of building codes. It increased casualties and misery.

Internationally, the elections are being watched closely as a test of a united opposition’s ability to oust a leader who has concentrated almost all state power in his hands.

In 2016, Erdogan survived a military coup attempt he blamed on supporters of his former ally, US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. The move sparked a large-scale crackdown on Gulen’s supporters and other critics, including pro-Kurdish politicians, for alleged links to terrorist groups.

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In this election campaign, Erdogan used state resources and his dominant position over the media to woo voters. He accused them of colluding with “terrorists”, “drunkards” and championing LGBTQ+ rights, which he portrayed as threatening traditional family values ​​in the majority Muslim country.

In an effort to win support from citizens hit hard by inflation, he has raised wages and pensions and subsidized electricity and gas bills while touting Turkey’s domestic security and infrastructure projects.

He also extended the political coalition of his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, to include two nationalist parties, a small leftist party and two fringe Islamist parties.

Kilicdaroglu’s six-party Nation coalition pledged to abolish the executive presidency in a 2017 referendum.. The opposition coalition pledged to restore the independence of the judiciary and the central bank, as well as roll back crackdowns on free speech and other democratic setbacks under Erdogan.

The coalition includes the nationalist Good Party, led by former interior minister Merel Aksener, a smaller Islamist party, and two breakaway parties from the AKP.

The country’s main Kurdish political party, currently Turkey’s second-largest opposition group, is backing Kilicdaroglu in the presidential election. Erdogan’s government has targeted party leaders with arrests and prosecutions in recent years.

At the polling stations, many voters tried to fold the bulky ballots – which represent 24 political parties vying for parliamentary seats – and fit them into envelopes along with the presidential ballot.

“It’s important for Turkey. It’s important for the people,” said Negati Aktuna, a voter in Ankara. “I’ve been voting for the past 60 years. I’ve never seen an election more important than this one.

The head of the Supreme Election Board, Ahmad Yener, said the polling ended without any “negative” incidents being reported.

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“We all miss democracy so much. We all miss being together,” Klikdaroglu said after voting at a school in Ankara, where his supporters chanted “President Klikdaroglu!” They chanted.

“From now on, you will see spring in this country,” he said.

Erdogan said voting was going on “without any problems,” including in the earthquake-hit region.

“After the evening number … my hope is that there will be a better future for our country, our nation and Turkish democracy,” Erdogan said.

Sinon Ogan, a former academic backed by the anti-immigration Nationalist Party, is running for president. Another candidate, center-left politician Muharram Ince, dropped out of the race on Thursday. Following a significant drop in his ratings. However, the country’s election board has said that his withdrawal is invalid and his votes will be counted.

Some have expressed concern that if Erdogan loses, he will relinquish power. Erdogan told a dozen Turkish broadcasters on Friday that he had come to power through democracy and would act according to the democratic process.

Voting in 11 earthquake affected provincesThe fact that nearly 9 million people are eligible to vote has raised concerns.

About 3 million people have left the earthquake zone for other provinces, but only 133,000 have registered to vote in their new locations. Political parties and NGOs had planned to bus voters, but it was not clear how many returned.

Many of the earthquake survivors voted in makeshift polling booths set up in schoolyards.

In the earthquake-hit Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakır, Ramadan Akay arrived at his polling station early to cast his vote.

God willing it will be a democratic election, he said. “May it benefit the name of our country.”

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Pilkinsoy reported from Istanbul. Mukahid Celan contributed from Diyarbakir, Turkey.

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