ANKARA — Turkish presidential candidate Muharrem Ince announced Thursday that he was pulling out of the general election race, a shocking move three days ahead of the critical vote.
Speaking at a press conference in Ankara, Ince, leader of Memleket (Homeland) Party and formerly of the main opposition party, said that he was withdrawing for his country, but stopped short of endorsing any candidate.
"Let there be no excuses. Otherwise, when they lose the election, they will put all the blame on us on the morning of the election. They have no excuse,” he said, in an apparent jab at the main opposition party. “I’m doing this for my country.”
Sunday's elections will now be fought between three candidates: incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu and ultranationalist Sinan Ogan. Although polls give a single-digit lead to Kilicdaroglu, he has yet been unable to secure more than 50% of the vote, according to opinion surveys released this week before Ince’s announcement.
Ince’s decision could increase Kilicdaroglu's chances of winning against Erdogan, as the majority of his votes come from the opposition's voter base.
Polls released on Thursday put Ince’s support at 1%-2%. The tightly contested race will determine whether Erdogan will extend his authoritarian rule into a new consecutive term or a pro-Western coalition will come to power.
Ince said his Memleket Party will remain in the race, calling his supporters to vote for it in the parliamentary elections.
Ince and his former party held a series of talks over the past month in a bid to unify ranks in the presidential race, but the discussions broke down without reconciliation. Recent polls suggest support for Ince has been waning since then.
Ince, a former CHP member, ran against Erdogan as the main opposition’s candidate in the 2018 presidential election.