Muharrem Ince, the leader of Turkey's centre-left Homeland Party, has pulled out of the May 14 presidential election, giving a potential boost to incumbent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's main challenger.
A candidate in Turkey's presidential election announced Thursday that he is withdrawing from the race.
Muharrem Ince, the leader of the centre-left Homeland Party, was one of four contenders running for president in the May 14 election.
The move is likely to bolster President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's main challenger.
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 Kılıçdaroğlu, and for possibly forcing the presidential race into a second round.
“I am withdrawing from the race,” Ince told reporters. “I am doing this for my country.”
Several members of Ince's party had resigned in recent days, concerned that his candidacy would prevent Kılıçdaroğlu from winning against President Erdoğan, in power since 2003.
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.
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 whose name will still appear on Sunday's ballot had previously run against Erdoğan in presidential elections in 2018 under the ticket of Kılıçdaroğlu's main opposition party, CHP.
He had garnered around 30% of the votes but later broke away from the party.
The latest opinion poll made public on Thursday by the renowned Konda Institute credited 74-year-old Kılıçdaroğlu with 49.3% of voting intentions in the first round, against 43.7% for Erdoğan and 2.2% for Ince.
The third candidate still in the running, Sinan Ogan, was credited with 4.8% of the vote.
According to a poll conducted on May 9 and 10 by the Metropoll Institute, nearly 50 per cent of Muharrem Ince's supporters will shift their vote to Kılıçdaroğlu, compared to less than a quarter in favour of President Erdoğan.
"My appeal still stands. Let's put aside old grudges," Kılıçdaroğlu tweeted Thursday, calling on Muharrem Ince to join his coalition.
"His withdrawal is incomprehensible. Honestly, I am sad," Erdoğan said at a rally in Ankara province.
"Let's continue (...) What counts is the decision of my people," added the 69-year-old head of state, who will face his most uncertain election since he took office on Sunday.
Erdoğan, whose popularity has been dented by the economic crisis that has hit Turkey, promised on Thursday to double the salaries of civil servants, after initially promising a 45% increase on Tuesday.
Kılıçdaroğlu is promising a return to democracy and a full-scale fight against inflation, which still exceeds 40% in Turkey.
In addition to the support of his coalition, the candidate has won the backing of the People's Democratic Party (HDP), the country's main pro-Kurdish party and third largest political force.
In the conservative city of Sivas, Kılıçdaroğlu promised on Thursday that he would protect the rights of all Turks.
The country's 64.1 million voters will simultaneously renew their parliament on Sunday, where President Erdoğan and his allies enjoy a majority.
Nearly 1.7 million Turks have already voted from abroad, according to figures from the Turkish High Electoral Committee.
"We have reached a record turnout abroad compared to previous elections," said Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Yasin Ekrem Serim.
Five years ago, Turks abroad, who make up about 5% of the electorate, voted nearly 60% for Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, compared to 52.6% for Turks as a whole.