ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — A candidate in Turkey's presidential election announced Thursday that he was withdrawing from the race, a move that's likely to bolster President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's main challenger.
Muharrem Ince, the leader of the center-left Homeland Party, was one of four contenders running for president in the May 14 election. Turkey will also be holding a parliamentary election at the same time.
Ince had come under intense criticism for splintering the votes of the six-party Nation Alliance, which has united behind the candidacy of main opposition party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, and of possibly forcing the presidential race 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 Turkey as prime minister and president since 2003, is facing the most challenging election of his 20-year rule. Polls had given Kilicdaroglu a slight lead over Erdogan, although neither candidate was expected to garner more than 50% of the votes required to be elected in the first round.
Ince had polled around 8% of the votes when his candidacy was first announced, but his popularity ratings have since dropped to around 2%, according to opinion surveys.
The firebrand politician didn't say he was dropping out in favor of Kilicdaroglu, but analysts say his withdrawal is likely to benefit the Nation Alliance.
Nation Alliance members welcomed Ince's decision to step down.
“God willing, our nation will take the necessary step in the days ahead so that we will (succeed) in the first round,” said Gultekin Uysal, leader of the center-right Democrat Party.
Ince, however, said the Homeland Party, which he formed in 2021, would still run in the parliamentary elections, and he called for votes for the party “from each household.”
The 58-year-old former physics teacher had previously run against Erdogan in presidential elections in 2018 under the ticket of Kilicdaroglu's main opposition party, CHP. He had garnered around 30% of the votes, but later broke away from the party.
“They will have no excuses if they lose the election,” Ince said, in an apparent reference to Kilicdaroglu.