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Turkish candidate drops out in boost to Erdogan’s main challenger

ANKARA (AP) – A candidate in Turkiye’s presidential election announced his withdrawal from the race on Thursday, a move that’s likely to benefit President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main challenger.

The candidate who pulled out, Muharrem Ince, is the leader of the centre-left Homeland Party. He was one of four contenders running in tomnorrow’s presidential election. Turkiye holds a parliamentary election the same day.

Ince had faced criticism for potentially ciphering support from the six-party Nation Alliance, which has united behind the candidacy of opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and thereby forcing the presidential contest into a second-round.

“I am withdrawing from the race,” Ince told reporters in front of his party’s headquarters. “I am doing this for my country.”

Erdogan, who has led Turkiye as prime minister and president since 2003, is facing the most challenging election of his 20-year rule. Polls have given Kilicdaroglu a slight lead over Erdogan, although neither candidate was expected to garner the more than 50 per cent of the vote required to be elected in the first round.

Ince had polled at around eight per cent of the vote when his candidacy was first announced, but his popularity had since dropped to around two per cent, according to opinion surveys.

The firebrand politician didn’t throw his support behind another candidate, but analysts said his withdrawal was likely to boost Kilicdaroglu’s chances.

“Ince was drawing on support from voters dissatisfied both with Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu,” senior Middle East and North Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft Hamish Kinnear wrote in e-mailed comments.

“While polling indicates that a majority of Ince’s voters are likely to flip to Kilicdaroglu, it’s unclear if there will be enough voters to give him an outright victory in the first round,” he said.

Nation Alliance members welcomed Ince’s decision to step down, expressing hope for a first-round victory tomorrow. Kilicdaroglu called on Ince to join the opposition coalition.

“Let’s leave old resentments, old grievances behind,” Kilicdaroglu wrote on Twitter.

Erdogan meanwhile, said he regretted Ince’s decision.

“Of course, it is impossible to understand why he withdrew. Honestly, I was saddened,” Erdogan said during an election rally in Ankara.

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