Supporters of Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan
celebrate his election victory in front of the party
headquarters in Ankara. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
Tayyip Erdogan has secured his place in history as
Turkey's first directly elected president, sweeping more than
half the vote in a result his opponents fear heralds an
increasingly authoritarian state.
Supporters honking car horns and waving flags took to the
streets in the capital Ankara after Turkish television
stations said Erdogan, the prime minister for more than a
decade, had won 51.8 percent of the vote, 13 points more than
his closest rival and avoiding the need for a second round
The chairman of the High Election Board confirmed Erdogan had
a majority, with more than 99 percent of votes counted, and
said full provisional figures would be announced on Monday.
"The people have shown their will," Erdogan, 60, told a
cheering crowd at a convention centre in Istanbul.
He stopped short of declaring outright victory in the first
general election for Turkey's head of state, a post
previously chosen by parliament. But at the headquarters in
the capital Ankara of his AK Party, a balcony was being
prepared and thousands of followers were already gathered
below to hear him.
Turkey has emerged as a regional economic force under
Erdogan, who has ridden a wave of religiously conservative
support to transform the secular republic founded by Mustafa
Kemal Ataturk on the ruins of the Ottoman empire in 1923.
But his critics warn that a President Erdogan, with his roots
in political Islam and intolerance of dissent, would lead the
NATO member and European Union candidate further away from
Ataturk's secular ideals.
If his victory is confirmed, Erdogan will be sworn in as
president on Aug. 28. The ruling AK Party was to begin
meeting shortly to start deciding on candidates to replace
him as premier and party leader. Foreign Minister Ahmet
Davutoglu is seen as a leading candidate.
Erdogan's main rival in Sunday's election, Ekmeleddin
Ihsanoglu, a former diplomat and academic who won 38.5
percent of the vote according to broadcasters CNN Turk and
NTV, congratulated Erdogan on the result in a brief
Selahattin Demirtas took 9.7 percent, according to the TV
stations - a result for an ethnic Kurd that would have been
unthinkable just a few years ago as Turkey battled a Kurdish
rebellion and sought to quell demands from the ethnic
"We will continue to defend our principles and values. The
message we wanted to deliver has reached the whole country,
to every village, district, town in Turkey," Demirtas told
reporters in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir.
Erdogan's core supporters, religious conservatives, see his
victory as the crowning achievement of his drive to reshape
Turkey and break the hold of a secular elite.
In a tea house in the working-class Istanbul district of
Tophane, men watching election coverage on television praised
Erdogan as a pious man of the people who had boosted Turkey's
status both economically and on the international stage.
"Erdogan is on the side of the underdog. He is the defender
against injustice," said Murat, 42, a jeweller, who declined
to give his family name.
"This country was ruined by the old politicians. They lied to
us. They caused economic crises, the PKK violence," he said.
Erdogan has opened a peace process with Kurdish PKK militants
to end a conflict which has killed 40,000 people in 30 years.
The voting turnout, which exceeded 89 percent in March local
elections, appeared to be low, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
observer George Tsereteli told reporters.
Opinion polls had put Erdogan far ahead of two rivals
competing for a five-year term as president. Parliament has
in the past chosen the head of state but this was changed
under a law pushed through by Erdogan's government.
He has set his sights on serving two presidential terms,
keeping him in power past 2023, the 100th anniversary of the
secular republic. For a leader who refers frequently to
Ottoman history in his speeches, the date has special
In his final campaign speech in the conservative stronghold
of Konya on Saturday, he said the election would herald a
"new Turkey" and "a strong Turkey is rising again from the
But his vision left voters cold at one polling station in the
capital Ankara, where many complained of deep polarisation
under Erdogan and said only his AK Party loyalists had
benefited from changes in the past decade.
"The freedom that he says has increased is for his own
supporters. You can only be free if you support him. He has
polarised this country in a way nobody has before," said
Yucel Duranoglu, 45, who works for a private company.
Erdogan has vowed to exercise the full powers granted to him
by current laws, unlike predecessors who have played a mainly
ceremonial role. But he also plans to change the constitution
to establish a fully executive presidency.
The current constitution, written under military rule after a
1980 coup, would enable him to chair cabinet meetings and
appoint the premier and members of top judicial bodies
including the constitutional court and supreme council of
Erdogan's AK scored a clear victory in local elections in
March and Sunday's triumph will emphatically put an end to
the toughest year of his time in power.
He was shaken by nationwide anti-government protests last
summer, and months later, Erdogan and his inner circle were
targeted by a corruption investigation and a power struggle
with his former ally, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.
He accuses Gulen of seeking to overthrow him and has pledged
as president to continue purging institutions such as the
police and judiciary where Gulen is believed to wield
Despite the challenges Erdogan has faced, there was an air of
resignation among many voters who oppose him.
"I am almost depressed. I worry for my country because I
increasingly feel like an alien here. The prime minister is
talking about a Turkey that I don't recognise," said Erkan
Sonmez, 43, who works in an import-export business.
"I can no longer speak to my neighbours who vote for the AK
Party, does that sound like a peaceful community to you?"