ISTANBUL — An unofficial vote count showed Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won the country’s first ever direct presidential election in the first round Sunday, ensuring he will remain at the country’s helm for at least another five years.
With 93.7 percent of ballot boxes opened, Erdogan was ahead with 53.05 percent of the vote, the count by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed. Erdogan’s main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, was shown at 37.81 percent and the third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, at 9.14 percent.
“The people showed their will at the polls today,” Erdogan said in a brief speech before thousands of supporters in Istanbul Sunday evening, but stopped short of declaring victory.
He said he would head to the capital, Ankara, from where he hoped to address his supporters from his party headquarters late Sunday night, once all results were in.
Anadolu, which has reporters stationed in vote counting centers across the country, declared Erdogan the winner. Turkey’s electoral commission is not expected to publicly announce any official results until Monday.
A win requires an absolute majority.
Now in his third term as prime minister at the head of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, 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.
Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London, said an Erdogan win would likely mean a continuation of his confrontational mode of leadership.
“I don’t think that this really will change Turkey that much. Essentially if you look at Prime Minister Erdogan’s style of governance, at least in the last four or five years, it’s been increasingly singular, dominant, combative, confrontational and ideological,” Hakura said before the elections. “So I don’t think that (his) assumption of the presidency will change the ... nature and character of Turkey’s style of governance.”
However, he said Erdogan had played on the ‘us versus them’ confrontational polarizing style of politics, which he thought was likely to exacerbate social and political tensions in Turkey at a time of growing turmoil in neighboring countries, such as Iraq and Syria.
Previously a largely ceremonial role, 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.
Party rules barred Erdogan from serving another term as prime minister. Turkish presidents used to be elected by 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, and there had been few doubts of an Erdogan win.
He is backed by several opposition parties including, the two main ones: a pro-secular party and a nationalist one, and ran on a platform stressing unity.
Speaking after voting in Istanbul, Ihsanoglu said some voting irregularities had been reported, such as voters photographing their stamped ballots with their mobile phones, possibly to use those photos to receive favors from the party they voted for. He said an official complaint would be filed.
“The eyes of the whole world are upon us,” he said. “(Turkey) has been striving to become a first-class democracy ... and hopefully Turkey will achieve this today.”
Asa Lindestam, head of a group of election observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said voting at the few polling stations she had monitored had proceeded “smoothly.”
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 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.
Some 53 million people were eligible to vote.