Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, has won the country’s first direct presidential election in the first round after taking more that 50 percent of the vote, according to Turkey’s election board.
Sunday’s victory will extend Erdogan’s more than 10-year rule over the country for another five years.
“The provisional results show that Erdogan has the majority of the valid votes,” High Election Board chairman Sadi Guven told a news conference in the capital Ankara.
“We have received more than 99 percent [of the votes]. Tomorrow we will announce the provisional results.”
Erdogan declared victory by addressing his supporters from his party’s headquarters in Ankara.
“Today national will and democracy have prevailed again… Today, greater Turkey has prevailed again… With the president being elected by popular vote, obstacles between Cankaya [the presidential palace] and the public have been lifted,” he said, striking a conciliatory tone after a tense campaign period.
“Our political views, lifestyles, beliefs and ethnicities can be different, but we are all offspring of this country. We are all owners of this state… I will embrace all 70 million [Turks] as president.”
The vote has been seen as a milestone in Turkish politics as Turks are electing their president by a popular vote for the first time in the country’s history, bringing the office a new legitimacy.
In a brief statement to reporters in Istanbul, the main opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu said: “I congratulate Mr Prime Minister and wish him success.”
At midnight (9pm GMT) on Sunday, the prime minster had received 52 percent of the votes, Ihsanoglu on 38 percent and the third candidate Selahattin Demirtas taking 10 percent, after 99 percent of the votes had been counted, the semi-official Anatolia news agency said.
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Erdogan’s opponents accuse him of undermining the secular norms of Turkey and pushing it towards autocracy, while his supporters see him as a charismatic leader who changed the crisis-hit Turkey of the early 2000s into a prospering and respected country.
“For the first time in Turkish history, a strong political leader elected by the public is taking over the presidential seat,” Ali Bayramoglu, a political analyst and columnist for the pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper, told Al Jazeera.
“These are signals of Turkey moving away from parliamentary system in favour of the presidential system, a change Erdogan seeks.”
The presidency in Turkey has relatively more powers compared to similar parliamentary governments.
The office has the power to promulgate laws or return them to the parliament for reconsideration, to call public referendums, to call new parliamentary elections, to appoint the prime minister, ministers and key bureaucrats.
Koray Caliskan, a professor at Istanbul’s Bogazici University, believes that Turkey will now slip further away from democracy and the country will be more polarised in the future.
“In time, Turkey will look more and more similar to [President Vladimir] Putin’s Russia. He will use all his presidential powers to tighten his grip on the country,” he told Al Jazeera.
Different campaign rhetorics
During campaigning, Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics since 2002, has talked about infrastructure projects, foreign policy moves, economic reforms, and a new constitution featuring a presidential system, signaling an unconventional and active presidency.
Conversely, Ihsanoglu had stressed “unity” and “neutrality”, drawing a more traditional and passive picture for his potential presidency.
Ihsanoglu was backed by the left-leaning secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the two largest opposition parties in the country, in addition to various smaller ones.
As a conservative academic and diplomat who used to lead the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, he spent most of his life abroad and therefore was largely unknown by Turkish public.
Caliskan told Al Jazeera that the election has taken place in an unfair atmosphere, where Erdogan campaigned as prime minister, using state facilities and media throughout the campaigning process.
“I don’t think the two main opposition parties made any mistakes in their alliance in this process, but the dynamics of the election was fundamentally unfair,” Caliskan said.
“Erdogan campaigned through state visits, used state properties and appeared on state media far more than Ihsanoglu.”
Bayramgolu said: “Erdogan might have appeared more than his opponents on state television, but there was diverse media coverage by tens of media organisations affiliated with the government and the opposition.”
“I don’t think him campaigning as prime minister had any effect on the result.”
Bayramgolu also said the opposition failed to pick a candidate who could represent them and reveal the synergy of their alliance.
“Ihsanoglu has no political identity and his discourse was more about keeping the status quo in Turkey and preventing the other candidate [from being elected],” he said.
“I think this explains why the sum of two party’s votes is far lower than their aggregate votes in the local elections of March.”
Alleged use of state resources
The alleged use of state resources by Erdogan’s presidential campaign was a source of controversy before the election.
Last month, Ihsanoglu said Erdogan was using state-owned planes, helicopters, and other facilities, which were not being provided for his presidential campaign.
“We know we are competing in unequal circumstances. But there, the will of the people and God is superior to all of this,” he said.
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The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a Vienna-based international security and rights organisation, also criticised the government for the same reason.
“The campaign activities of the prime minister are large-scale events, often combined with official government events,” an OSCE report of July 31 said.
“While other candidates actively campaign, the public visibility of their campaigns is limited.”
In another development, Turkey’s media watchdog said in July that Turkey’s state television covered the upcoming election in a one-sided manner that favoured Erdogan.
Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras