Polls open in Turkey in biggest test for Erdogan


Meanwhile, Erdogan's main rival, opposition candidate Muharrem Ince, has been drawing large crowds of support and is expected to take the election into a second runoff vote with Erdogan.

The victor of Sunday's presidential contest will acquire sweeping new executive powers under a constitutional overhaul backed by Mr Erdogan and endorsed a year ago by a narrow majority of Turks in a referendum.

A constitutional referendum backed by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in April 2017 agreed changes expanding the powers of the Turkish president, most of which will come into effect after these elections.presidential and parliamentary elections are also now being held simultaneously.

Erdogan, whose mastery of political rhetoric is acknowledged even by critics, has won a dozen elections but is now fighting against the backdrop of increasing economic woes.

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Experts said the lira depreciation, higher unemployment rate and inflation rate, all those symptoms of a sluggish economy had become a heavy burden on Mr Erdogan.

He mustered colossal numbers for rallies in the three largest cities of Izmir, Ankara and Istanbul on the final days of the campaign, promising a "different Turkey".

The country further witnessed a failed military coup in July 2016 which was blamed on US-based opposition cleric Fethullah Gulen. Confident and combative, Ince said "Erdogan you are going!" and called him a "fascist".

On Saturday police said at least 1 million people turned out in Istanbul's Maltepe district to hear Mr Ince promise to reverse - if he wins the presidency - what he sees as Turkey's turn towards more authoritarian rule under Mr Erdogan.

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The rallies and campaign vans have fallen silent, along with broadcast electioneering, hours before Turkey's polls are due to open.

Other presidential candidates include Selahattin Demirtas, HDP leader, who is now in jail on terrorism-related charges that he denies.

Erdogan urged citizens to vote and listed the hospitals and transportation infrastructure as proof of his leadership.

. Voting began at 8 a.m. (0500 GMT) and will end at 5 p.m. (1400 GMT).

The vote will be closely watched by the European Union - which Erdogan says he still wants Turkey to join despite the accession process grinding to a halt - and the United States which has seen no improvement in ties with its North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ally under Donald Trump. A delegation of observers from the OSCE will also be in place.

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