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Erdogan Leading in Turkey Election     06/24 11:39

   ISTANBUL (AP) -- Early partial results in Turkey's presidential elections 
Sunday showed incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the lead, with challenger 
Muharrem Ince in second place.

   The high-stakes presidential and parliamentary elections could consolidate 
Erdogan's grip on power or curtail his vast political ambitions. The vote will 
complete Turkey's transition to a new executive presidential system, a move 
approved in a controversial referendum last year.

   For an outright win in the presidential race, Erdogan needs more than 50 
percent of the vote to avoid a run-off on June 8.

   Turkey's official Anadolu News Agency said that with 32 percent of the 
country's ballot boxes counted, Erdogan was at 57.7 percent of the vote, with 
Ince at 27.8 percent. Imprisoned candidate Selahattin Demirtas was garnering 
5.9 percent.

   In the parliamentary vote, with 13 percent of ballot boxes counted, 
Erdogan's People Alliance, which includes his AK party and a small nationalist 
party, stood at 64 percent, while the opposition Nation Alliance grouping 
together nationalists, secularists and a small Islamic-leaning party, was at 
26.2 percent.

   The pro-Kurdish HDP was below the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament, 
with 7.6 percent.

   Erdogan, 64, is seeking re-election for a five-year term with hugely 
increased powers under the new system, which he insists will bring prosperity 
and stability to Turkey, especially after a failed coup attempt in 2016 that 
has left the country under a state of emergency. His ruling Justice and 
Development Party, or AKP, is hoping to retain its majority in parliament.

   Ince, speaking just after polls closed, warned civil servants involved in 
the vote count to do their jobs "abiding by the law" and without fear, 
suggesting they were under pressure by the government. He asked all Turks to be 
vigilant at polls and not be "demoralized" by what he called the possible 
manipulation of news.

   Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003, has faced a more robust, united 
opposition this time. Opposition candidates vowed to return Turkey to a 
parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what 
they call Erdogan's "one-man rule."

   Five candidates were running against Erdogan in the presidential race.

   "With these elections, Turkey is achieving a virtual democratic revolution," 
Erdogan told reporters after voting in Istanbul. He said turnout appeared to be 
high and that "no serious incidents" had occurred.

   Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, is backed by the center-left 
opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. He has wooed crowds with an 
unexpectedly engaging campaign, drawing massive numbers at his rallies in 
Turkey's three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

   Also challenging Erdogan is 61-year-old former Interior Minister Meral 
Aksener, the only female presidential candidate in the race. She broke away 
from Turkey's main nationalist party over its support for Erdogan and formed 
the center-right, nationalist Good Party.

   More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were 
eligible to vote. Erdogan called the election more than a year early in what 
analysts say was a pre-emptive move ahead of a possible economic downturn.

   Turkey was also electing 600 lawmakers to parliament --- 50 more than in the 
previous assembly. The constitutional changes have allowed parties to form 
alliances, paving the way for Ince's and Aksener's parties to join a small 
Islamist party in the "Nation Alliance" against Erdogan.

   The head of Turkey's electoral commission said authorities had taken action 
following reports of irregularities at voting stations in southeastern Turkey. 
Videos posted on social media appeared to show people voting in bulk at a 
ballot box in the town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province.

   Demirtas, the presidential candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic 
Party, or HDP, was forced to run his campaign from prison, where he is being 
held in pre-trial detention on terrorism-related charges. He denies any 
wrongdoing, saying his imprisonment is politically motivated so Erdogan's 
government can stay in power.

   The campaign coverage has been lopsided in favor of Erdogan who directly or 
indirectly controls a majority of Turkey's media.

   The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe was monitoring the 
elections with over 350 observers. Election monitors criticized Turkey for 
denying entry to two monitors who Turkey accused of being politically biased.

   Peter Osusky, head of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly delegation, told The 
Associated Press all observers "are strongly adhering to so-called code of 
conduct" regardless of their political opinions.

   Recent changes to electoral laws allow civil servants to lead ballot box 
committees. Ballot papers that don't bear the official stamps will still be 
considered valid --- a measure that led to allegations of fraud in last year's 
referendum.

   Citing security reasons, authorities have relocated thousands of polling 
stations in predominantly Kurdish provinces, forcing some 144,000 voters to 
travel further to cast their ballots. Some will even have to pass through 
security checkpoints to vote.

   The vote took place under a state of emergency declared after the failed 
coup attempt, which allows the government to curtail civil rights. Some 50,000 
people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under the 
emergency powers, which opposition lawmakers say Erdogan is using to stifle 
dissent.

   The pro-Kurdish HDP has seen nine of its lawmakers and thousands of party 
members arrested by the government and says more than 350 of its election 
workers have been detained since April 28.


(KA)

 
 
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