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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 October 2018

Erdogan declares total victory but opposition remains defiant

State-run TV station TRT declared Mr Erdogan the winner with more than 90 per cent of the ballot boxes opened

Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan declared 'total victory' in his address to supporters at the AKP headquarters in Ankara. Adem Altan / AFP Photo
Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan declared 'total victory' in his address to supporters at the AKP headquarters in Ankara. Adem Altan / AFP Photo

Official results in Turkey’s vital double election suggest President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is on course to secure sweeping powers, although independent monitors and opposition figures claimed he could still face a run-off.

State-run TV station TRT declared Mr Erdogan the winner with more than 90 per cent of the ballot boxes opened, but the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) said he would fall below clinching half of all votes cast, forcing a second round in the presidential race.

Mr Erdogan later took to television to declare his victory. “No one should disguise their lack of success by blaming the electoral system,” he said before calling the vote “a lesson for democracy for the rest of the world”.

The Fair Election Platform said more than 70 per cent of the boxes had been opened and put Mr Erdogan on 52.2 per cent, while the CHP’s Muharrem Ince stood at 30.4 per cent.

The other two main opposition candidates accounted for 16.3 per cent.

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In the parliamentary vote, the official Anadolu news agency – ordinarily favourable to the government – said Mr Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) received 42.5 per cent of the vote with more than 98 per cent of the ballots opened.

That would give the AKP 292 seats, below a majority in the 600-seat Grand National Assembly. However, an electoral alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which was on course to take 49 seats with 11.2 per cent, would give it the largest bloc.

Even the achievement of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) in surpassing the 10 per cent nationwide electoral threshold appeared insufficient to seize the parliament from the AKP-MHP, according to the official results.

As official data showed a victory for Mr Erdogan in both polls, his supporters blared car horns and waved flags as they drove through the capital Ankara.

However, opposition figures accused Anadolu, which distributes election data to Turkey’s media, of calling the vote too soon in a bid to dishearten election monitors watching the count.

Others noted that opened ballot boxes did not equate to counted votes, while some pollsters said the results only represented rural areas and the ballots of major cities had yet to be opened.

“I’m calling on our ballot staff to keep the spirits up and not abandon the polls under any condition,” Mr Ince said on Twitter.

According to the official results, the secularist CHP was set to take 22.7 per cent of the parliamentary vote, giving it 147 seats, the HDP 11.1 per cent (66 seats) and the nationalist IYI Party 10.1 per cent (46 seats).

The HDP’s Selahattin Demirtas, who campaigned from prison, took 8 per cent of the presidential votes, while Meral Aksener of the IYI Party received 7.4 per cent.

However, the predictions were regarded as provisional and possibly unreliable in elections that saw widespread allegations of electoral fraud, with the interior ministry reporting 362 "incidents" on polling day.

The elections were the first since Turkey moved to an executive presidency that grants wide new powers to the head of government. Elections were not originally scheduled until November next year, but Mr Erdogan called for snap elections in a bid to shore up his power.

With the count still ongoing, most claims of ballot-stuffing and attacks on observers were centred on the Kurdish-majority south-east.

Opposition candidates urged their supporters to cross the country to protect ballot boxes after the polls closed at 5pm local time, but many voters were denied their legal right to watch the count at local polling stations.

As crowds gathered in front of the Supreme Electoral Council (YSK) in Ankara, police warned them to leave or be forcefully dispersed.

The elections, which were conducted under a state of emergency imposed after a 2016 coup attempt, will decide if Mr Erdogan, 64, will secure a new five-year term with wide-ranging executive powers granted to the presidency in a narrowly won referendum last year.

His opponents have promised to abandon the presidential system and return Turkey to parliamentary democracy.

Opinion polls had shown a tight race between the AKP-MHP and an opposition coalition that includes the CHP and IYI Party.

Pre-election surveys had also indicated Mr Erdogan might not pass the 50 per cent needed to avoid a second-round run-off on July 8 against Mr Ince.

The closeness of the race – largely due to a well-organised and united opposition – as well as new laws that critics say could pave the way for electoral fraud, heightened concerns, particularly in the south-east where the HDP is strongest.

If the HDP had failed to pass Turkey’s 10 per cent threshold for parliament, its votes would be redistributed to the second-placed party, namely the AKP.

Suruc, a Kurdish-majority city near the Syrian border, saw the most claims of electoral interference.

Local media reported that armed supporters of AKP deputy Ibrahim Hilal Yildiz attacked election observers and forced voters to back the ruling party.

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Police also found four sacks of pre-stamped ballots when they stopped a car in the city, the Evrensel newspaper reported. The papers were thought to have been prepared to swap with legitimately cast votes.

There were also reports of violence against observers – half a million were deployed by the opposition and NGOs – and ballot-stuffing across the south-east.

Other alleged malpractices around the country included officials reportedly entering booths with voters, people casting relatives’ ballots and monitors blocked from polling stations. Videos circulating online appeared to show people stamping multiple ballots in several locations.

Three IYI Party workers, including a district chairman, were killed in a shooting in Karacoban in the eastern province of Erzurum, local newspapers reported.

In areas where thousands of ballot boxes have been moved for security reasons, voters were forced to travel to neighbouring villages. The HDP said residents of Ceylani in Hakkari, Turkey’s most south-eastern province, had to walk 25 kilometres to vote.

Responding to the Suruc allegations, YSK head Sadi Guven said voting in the district had proceeded normally. “No significant negative development has come to our attention,” he later said.

As they cast their votes, several presidential candidates alluded to the threat of fraud and pledged to remain vigilant.

As Mr Ince cast his vote in his hometown of Yalova, he said he would head to the YSK’s offices in Ankara to “guard” the count, vowing not to sleep until the final tally was in.

Mr Ince later added: “Whatever they do, they will lose. The era of winning elections by foul play has now ended.”

Mr Erdogan, who became president in 2014 after 11 years as prime minister, described the irregularities as not serious.

With polls opening at 8am, opposition observers had been in place since 5am, responding to a call by Mr Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, for them to arrive at their posts an hour earlier than originally planned.

“We need to guard against any attempt to interfere with the ballot boxes, so we came early to make sure we could take our places,” one volunteer, who declined to be named, said.

Across the country, long queues formed outside polling stations, with many elderly or sick voters being helped by others.

It is the first time presidential and parliamentary elections have been held on the same day.

Voters placed ballot papers for both elections in the same envelope. The presidential votes were being counted first.

A turnout of 87 per cent was recorded for the 56.3 million who voted in Turkey and nearly 1.5 million overseas voters.