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Erdogan emerges victorious in Turkey's first direct Presidential election

Ankara: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the country's first direct Presidential election in the first round on Sunday, an unofficial vote count showed, ensuring he remains at the country's helm for at least
India TV News Desk August 11, 2014 6:55 IST
India TV News Desk
Ankara: Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the country's first direct Presidential election in the first round on Sunday, an unofficial vote count showed, ensuring he remains at the country's helm for at least another five years.

"It is understood that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won an absolute majority of the votes," election commission head Sadi Guven said in Ankara.

He added that no ballots would be printed for a runoff that would have been held had nobody won an absolute majority and that the official results would be announced on Monday.

Erdogan's main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, conceded defeat in a brief speech in Istanbul.

"I hope that the result is beneficial for democracy in Turkey," Ihsanoglu said.

"I congratulate the Prime Minister and wish him success,” Ihsanoglu added.

The first round victory ensures Erdogan, currently serving his third term as Prime Minister, will continue to lead the country for another five years. It will also allow him to press ahead with his plans to strengthen the powers of the Presidency — which until now was largely a ceremonial post.

With 98 per cent of ballot boxes opened, Erdogan stood at 51.95 per cent of the vote. Ihsanoglu had 38.34 per cent and the third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, had 9.71 per cent.

"The people showed their will at the polls today," Erdogan said in a brief speech before thousands of cheering supporters in Istanbul on Sunday evening, but stopped short of declaring victory.

He headed to the capital, Ankara, from where he was to address his supporters from his party headquarters later on Sunday night.

"The result was not a surprise. Opinion polls had indicated that he would obtain around 54 to 58 per cent of the vote. He had dominated the election campaign," Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London, said.

"Erdogan will perceive this result as a decisive mandate to push ahead with his plans for an executive form of Presidency," he said.

The head of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the 60-year-old Erdogan has been a polarizing figure.

He is fervently supported by many as a man of the people who has led Turkey through a period of economic prosperity. But his critics view him as an increasingly autocratic leader bent on concentrating power and imposing his religious and conservative views on a country founded on strong secular traditions.

Erdogan has vowed to transform the Presidency into a powerful position — something his detractors say proves he is bent on a power grab. He has said he will activate the post's rarely used dormant powers — a legacy of a 1980 coup — including the ability to call Parliament and summon and preside over Cabinet meetings.

Hakura said the result would not alter Turkey course.

"Nothing will change much," he said.

"Neither his style of governance, neither domestic policy nor Turkey's external policy," he added.

Legislator Huseyin Celik, the AKP spokesman, said the party — which now must elect a new party leader and designate a Prime Minister to replace Erdogan — would hold a meeting later ob Sunday and another one on Monday. Erdogan is widely expected to appoint a compliant Prime Minister so he can continue to exert control.

Party rules barred Erdogan from serving another term as Prime Minister. Turkish Presidents used to be elected by the Parliament but Erdogan's government pushed through a constitutional amendment in 2007, changing the procedure to a popular vote.

Ihsanoglu, the 70-year-old former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and a political newcomer, seemed not to have won over the electoral base of the several parties backing him.

Yet the past year-and-a-half has been a turbulent one for Erdogan, who faced widespread anti-government protests in 2013 triggered by a violent police crackdown on demonstrators objecting to a construction plan in the central Istanbul.

More anti-government protests erupted in May after 301 miners died in a coal mine fire blamed on shoddy safety practices. Erdogan and his son have also been implicated in a corruption scandal that he has dismissed as a coup plot by a moderate Islamic preacher and former ally living in the United States, Fethullah Gulen.

Dozens of judicial and police officials involved in the probe against him have been dismissed or re-assigned, and dozens of police have been arrested and jailed.