With Muharrem Ince’s withdrawal from the campaign, the main opposition candidate may now have a better chance of defeating President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday.
Due to Ince’s poor polling results and the concern of certain opposition figures, the anti-Erdogan vote had consolidated around the president’s main competitor, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
“I’m dropping out of this competition. I’m doing this for my country,” Ince stated at a press conference in Ankara. “I don’t want them to blame me when they lose,” he added, referring to the main opposition.
His center-left party, Homeland, will continue to compete for seats in parliament. He urged every household to cast at least one vote for the Homeland Party. Ince didn’t support any of these.
According to Ince, he withdrew as a result of a “slander campaign.” In Turkey, he has been the target of vile accusations for weeks, and on Thursday, the public prosecutor’s office in Ankara announced that it had started looking into possible blackmail.
In 2018, the 59-year-old ran for president but fell short against Erdogan. He left Kilicdaroglu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP) in March of this year and entered the presidential contest. He first rejected requests from his previous party to resign out of fear that he would alienate voters from Erdogan’s opponent.
Erdogan claimed it was “impossible to understand why” Ince withdrew during a speech at a rally in Ankara, adding that he wished Ince had not done so.
Mehmet Karli, a CHP member and long-time adviser to Kilicdaroglu, told CNN that Ince’s decision is likely to be welcomed by the CHP and the wider opposition bloc. He added that while Ince may stop short of endorsing the Kilicdaroglu, the general expectation is that his backers wanted to see an end to Erdogan so will vote for the CHP leader.
Turkey holds elections every five years. The candidate who receives more than 50% of votes in the first round is elected president, but if no candidate gets a majority, the election goes to a second round between the two candidates who received the highest number of votes in the first round.
“As the election day became closer, all votes were converging on (Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu and) Ince’s votes were falling,” Murat Somer, a political science professor at Koc University in Istanbul, told CNN, noting that Ince’s candidacy would have likely led to a second round of elections. “He and his party did not want to take this responsibility,” he said.