Turks vote for president, parliament in crucial test for Erdogan

Turks vote for president, parliament in crucial test for Erdogan

His main challenger is Muharrem Ince of the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), while key Kurdish rival, Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) representative Selahattin Demirtas, is campaigning from a prison cell where he has been held on terrorism charges regarding alleged links to Kurdish militants.

After casting his ballot in his jail in the northwestern region of Edirne, Demirtas wrote on Twitter: "I wish that everyone uses their vote for the sake of the future and democracy of the country".

Erdogan remains the favorite to hold on to the presidency - even if he needs a second round on July 8 - but the outcome is likely to be much tighter than he expected when calling the snap polls one-and-a-half years ahead of schedule. Voting began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will end at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT).

Voting already closed last week for Turkish citizens resident overseas, with just under 1.5 million out of just over 3 million registered voters casting their ballot, a turnout of just under 49 percent.

In April 2017, 51 percent of Turkish voters endorsed constitutional changes backed by Erdogan, which grant new executive powers to president and scrap the post of prime minister.

He also hailed the executive presidency that comes into force after the elections.

He painted a bleak picture of Turkey if Erdogan wins the elections, saying its currency would remain weak, prices high and the issue of 3.5 million Syrian refugees unsolved. "Turkey will win!" said Ince, who boasted of holding 107 rallies in the last 50 days. "With this system, we will achieve what others can not imagine", he said.

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"If Erdogan wins, your phones will continue to be listened to".

Ince further stressed that he would lift Turkey's state of emergency which has been in place over the past two years.

Ince also repeated his accusation - made by other opposition politicians too - of political bias by Turkey's state media, which has given Erdogan and the AK Party heavy coverage while often neglecting to broadcast opposition rallies.

"If the HDP fails to get into parliament, all Turkey will lose".

Erdogan, 64, is seeking re-election for a new five-year term, and his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is hoping to retain its majority in parliament. A party must receive 10 percent of the votes for any of its candidates to win a seat at the legislature.

Erdogan blamed the coup on his former ally, USA -based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, and has waged a sweeping crackdown on the preacher's followers in Turkey.

Turkey's opposition candidates have repeatedly complained over the lack of airtime offered by largely pro-government media. According to the latest United Nations figures, some 160,000 people have been detained and almost as many more sacked in the crackdown.

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