In his first comments about the decision of presidential candidate Muharrem İnce to withdraw from Sunday’s election, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said he was saddened by the news and would have liked to have seen him remain in the competition until the end, the T24 news website reported.
“One of the candidates has withdrawn [from the race], and it’s hard to understand why. What has happened to make him withdraw? To be honest, I’m saddened by it. If only the race had gone on [with İnce] till the end,” Erdoğan said at an election rally in Ankara on Thursday.
In a move that is likely to change the outcome of Turkey’s presidential election in favor of the opposition candidate, 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.”
He had been accused of dividing the opposition vote and making a secret deal with Erdoğan to make it possible for him to occupy the top state post for another five years.
İnce announced his withdrawal from the race as Erdoğan was holding an election rally in Ankara. The attendees were informed of İnce’s decision by Erdoğan advisor Orhan Karakurt, who called on İnce’s supporters to back Erdoğan.
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.
His name will also still appear on the presidential ballot.
Kılıçdaroğlu had been appealing for days for İnce to formally back his candidacy. Although İnce did not endorse any candidate after dropping out, his withdrawal has been interpreted by Kılıçdaroğlu supporters as backing the 74-year-old opposition leader.
A fourth minor candidate, Sinan Oğan, who was nominated by a group of far-right parties, denied reports on Thursday that he was also planning to withdraw from the presidential race.
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.