Partial results in Turkey’s elections show lead for President Erdogan

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan casts his vote in Istanbul on Sunday.

(CNN) — Partial results in Turkey’s snap elections put President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party in the lead, lifting the veteran leader’s chances of surviving his biggest electoral challenge in 15 years.

With 75% of the votes for the presidential race counted, Erdogan was at 54.7%, a comfortable lead over main opposition candidate Muharrem Ince, who has 29.7% of the votes so far.

The results are not final and could change as more ballots are counted from other regions of the country.

Erdogan needs to gain at least 50% of the vote to win in a single round. Failing to do so will trigger a run-off round on July 8, a potentially dangerous scenario for the President. Ince, a former physics teacher, is a more charismatic opponent than Erdogan is used to facing.

Erdogan has sailed through several elections to become Turkey’s longest-serving leader. But a strong campaign by Ince led to speculation that Erdogan may not secure the 50% of the ballots needed to win re-election in the first round.

Some 59 million people were eligible to vote in both presidential and parliamentary elections Sunday, and participation was high at 86.79%, election commission results show.

With more than 70% of the parliamentary votes counted, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has gained 44.5% of the vote, and its allied Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) has 11.6%. Ince’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) has 21.4%. If those results stay steady, the ruling AKP-MHP coalition would retain its majority.

Ince accused state news agency Anadolu of being manipulative, for choosing to show early results from Erdogan’s stronghold.

“They first broadcast the votes in districts that Erdogan is strong. I am calling out to poll workers, do not get discouraged and leave the ballot boxes,” he said on Twitter, to ensure the count was fairly monitored.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since his rise as prime minister in 2003 and has transformed the nation. He implemented policies that encouraged sustained economic growth and development, he challenged Turkey’s secular foundations by bringing Islamic conservatism to public life and he gutted public institutions by having tens of thousands of people — many of them his critics — arrested following a failed military coup in 2016.

Erdogan called the snap elections 18 months early, as he faces battles on several fronts: Turkish voters are feeling the pain of soaring inflation, a plunging currency and high interest rates as the economy falters, and the normally splintered opposition is largely united against him for the first time in years. By offering a wider than usual range of presidential candidates, the opposition had hoped to split the vote enough ways to leave the frontrunner with less than 50% of the ballots.

Regardless of who wins, Turkey will soon be radically changed. Erdogan narrowly won a referendum last year to convert the country’s parliamentary system to a powerful executive presidency. The president will be given sweeping new powers, as the role of prime minister is dissolved and the president gains the authority to issue laws by decree.

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