ANKARA—Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, has won the country’s first direct presidential election in the first round after taking more than 50 percent of the vote on Sunday, Al Jazeera reports.
Sunday’s victory will extend Erdogan’s more than 10-year rule over the country for another five years.
Addressing a large crowd in Ankara late Sunday, Erdoğan defined the election as a “historic day,” Hurriyet Daily News reports.
“I greet you with all my heart on this historic day, a trophy night of democracy and the national will,” he said. “All of Turkey has won today.”
He expressed his desire that the elections would be good for the whole country and all friendly countries, while naming Gaza, Ramallah and Jerusalem among the winners.
“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.”
According to Al Jazeera, the vote has been seen as significant in Turkish politics as Turks are electing their president by a popular vote for the first time in the country’s history.
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 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.
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 favor 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 polarized in the future.
“In time, Turkey will look more and more similar to 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 organizations affiliated with the government and the opposition.”
“I don’t think him campaigning as prime minister had any effect on the result.”
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.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) also criticized 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 favored Erdogan.