Erdogan, seeking to cement presidential powers, leading in Turkey's vote count

Recep Tayyip Erdogan would become the country’s first executive president with sweeping new powers

That lead closed over time, but it prompted accusations by the opposition that the state news agency was launching a manipulation operation to influence election monitors into leaving ballot counting stations early.

The early parliamentary and presidential elections in Turkey are scheduled to be held on Sunday, June 24, that is, nearly a year and a half earlier than planned.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the press after casting his ballot at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, on June 24, 2018.

However the opposition raised doubts about the accuracy and reliability of the figures released by state-run Anadolu news agency, the sole distributor of the official vote tally.

He said "there is a high probability the presidential election will go to a second round".

"God willing, Turkey will start flying with this system", Erdogan said of the executive presidency at a rally in Istanbul Saturday, the Reuters news agency reported.

Erdogan needs over 50 percent to retain the presidency in the first round but these are still early results and the outcome could yet change drastically.

In a milestone, a pro-Kurdish group, HDP, gained the 10 percent of the vote needed for representation in Parliament.

Moments before, Mr Ince made a shocking claim that just 37 percent of the 88.9 percent of recorded votes has been counted, fanning the flames of speculation that the presidential and parliamentary elections were rigged.

The stakes are particularly high as the new president will be the first to enjoy enhanced powers under a new constitution agreed in an April 2017 referendum strongly backed by Erdogan. They accuse Erdogan of trying to force one-man-rule on Turkey by directly appointing top public officials including ministers and vice-presidents.

The first is the People's Alliance of Erdogan's ruling AKP, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and the nationalist Great Unity Party (BBP). Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what they call Erdogan's "one-man rule".

If Mr Erdogan wins more than 50% of the overall vote, he will be declared the victor and avoid the need for a second round of voting. They said election law changes and fraud allegations in the 2017 referendum raised fears about the fairness of Sunday's elections.

Voters are also choosing among eight parties, including two alliances, for 600 parliamentary seats.

Following the failed coup, Turkey has been under a state of emergency for almost two years and has seen a widespread crackdown on alleged supporters of Gulen.

"Ince's wit, audacity, ability to poke holes through Erdogan's narrative and connect with Turks beyond the traditional base of his secularist CHP has flustered Erdogan and his team", said Anthony Skinner, head of MENA at Verisk Maplecroft.

"With the presidential system, Turkey is seriously raising the bar, rising above the level of contemporary civilisations".

These elections were originally scheduled for November 2019 but were brought forward by Mr Erdogan.

The president remains popular, however, for lifting Turkey out of economic obscurity.

It limits some freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with decrees, although Erdogan says he will soon lift the measure.



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