Saturday, June 22, 2024

Muharrem Ince withdraws from Turkey presidential race, boosting Erdogan’s main challenger

Turkish presidential election candidate Muharrem Ince, one of the four contesting Sunday’s vote, says he is withdrawing from the race, in a potential boost to the main rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

“I’m withdrawing my candidacy,” Ince told reporters, adding, “I am doing this for my country.”

Before his withdrawal on Thursday, Ince was one of four candidates in the vote, alongside Erdogan, his main opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu and Sinan Ogan. A survey earlier showed Erdogan lagging Kilicdaroglu by more than five percentage points ahead of the election.

In a statement, Ince blamed an apparent smear campaign against him as the reason behind his decision to pull out from the race.

“Turkey could not protect my reputation. A presidential candidate’s reputation is important,” said Ince.

He called on voters to support his Homeland Party, stating, “The Homeland Party is important for Turkey’s future. It must be in the parliament. I want votes for the Homeland Party from every household.”

Ince also hit out at the opposition, saying: “When they [the opposition] lose the election they will put the blame on us. They shouldn’t have any excuses left.”

The 59-year-old was was the only contender without an alliance backing him. He branded the Homeland Party and his movement as the “third way”.

Ince was a former deputy of centre-left Republican People’s Party (CHP) and candidate for the 2018 election, where he came second. He later split from the party, which he is critical of.

Ince added Turkish social democrats and secular nationalists should unite against “Islamist” political parties.

His confrontational manner has led to scraps with journalists, and Kilicdaroglu supporters believed he was taking away support from their candidate and helping Erdogan.

Ince came under ferocious criticism from the opposition for entering the campaign.

Most saw him as a spoiler candidate who could only help Erdogan secure a third decade of rule.

Ince countered that he offered voters a more vibrant alternative to the 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu – a bookish former civil servant, who lost a string of national elections against Erdogan.

Ahead of his withdrawal, Ince had promised to send refugees back to their home countries and “restore” secularism in Turkey if he captured the presidency.

The last opinion polls showed Kilicdaroglu leading Erdogan by a few percentage points and falling just short of breaking the 50-percent threshold needed for a first-round win.

Ince’s popularity has been ebbing away after touching nearly 15 percent.

The latest surveys showed him picking up between two and four percent of the vote.

But that might be enough to put Kilicdaroglu over the top.

The Metropoll survey showed 30.5 percent of Ince’s support falling to Kilicdaroglu and 23.4 percent going to Erdogan.

Ince notably did not endorse any candidate after dropping out.

His name will also still appear on the presidential ballot.

A fourth minor candidate – nationalist Ogan – is believed to be mostly drawing votes away from Erdogan.

“Another crazy day in Turkish politics,” emerging markets economist Timothy Ash remarked.

“Ince withdraws, with the assumption that most of his votes now go to Kilicdaroglu, making it possible/more likely of a (Kilicdaroglu) first round win.”

Kilicdaroglu has been appealing for days for Ince to formally back his candidacy.

Erdogan, meanwhile, has been staging daily rallies at which he announced incentives and bonuses to voters aimed at spurring support.

The 69-year-old Turkish leader pledged on Thursday to double the size of a previously promised wage hike for public workers.

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