In a move that is likely to change the outcome of Turkey’s presidential election in favor of the opposition candidate, Muharrem İnce, the leader of the Homeland Party, on Thursday announced his withdrawal from the presidential race.
“I’m withdrawing my candidacy,” the 59-year-old told reporters in televised remarks. “I am doing this for my country.”
Turkey will hold presidential and parliamentary elections this Sunday.
İnce’s withdrawal has increased the likelihood of an election victory for Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader and presidential candidate of an opposition alliance of six parties.
Kılıçdaroğlu is the main rival of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is seeking re-election.
İnce, who cancelled several election rallies on Wednesday reportedly due to health problems, said he has faced tremendous pressure, a relentless defamation campaign and character assassination over the past 45 days, which caused him to make the decision to drop out.
Claims about a secret deal İnce allegedly made with Erdoğan in return for his remaining in the presidential race to divide the opposition vote had been circulating since he announced his candidacy in March.
Earlier this week photos showing İnce allegedly having an extramarital affair and alleged phone conversations between the two of them were also published on social media.
İnce said he has not been intimidated by all these efforts to defame him, calling them lies and slander while complaining that the Turkish government and judicial authorities have failed to protect his dignity as a presidential candidate in the wake of the defamation campaign against him.
According to İnce, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey and much of the international community, and the Gülen movement, a faith-based group accused by the Turkish government of masterminding a failed coup in 2016 despite its denial, are behind the defamation campaign.
Yet he still asked for the people’s support for his Homeland Party in the parliamentary elections, which will also be held on Sunday.
İnce said the opposition can now have no excuse in the event of a defeat since he dropped out of the race.
Public surveys were showing İnce’s vote at 7 percent at most when combined with the vote of Sinan Oğan, the joint presidential candidate of a group of far-right parties, but the support for İnce had been losing momentum over the last few weeks.
There were claims that he might have finished the race with 1 or 2 percent of the vote.
A former CHP member, İnce initially gained recognition during the 2018 presidential election campaign, when he ran as the CHP’s candidate against Erdoğan and secured 30.6 percent of the vote.
However, his response when the polls closed, when his supporters expected leadership from him, is still harshly criticized. He conceded defeat on election night, before Erdoğan’s victory was certain, urging the re-elected Turkish president to embrace all the country’s citizens.
“I accept the election results,” İnce had said at the time, which earned him widespread criticism for failing to stand behind the votes of the people who supported him amid suspicions of election fraud.
Many said İnce’s candidacy could weaken Kılıçdaroğlu’s chances of winning since his likely voters would be from among people supporting Kılıçdaroğlu, not Erdoğan.
Following a falling out with the CHP in 2021, İnce formed his own party and set his sights on the presidency once again.