Erdogan easily wins Turkish presidency

Critics warn of increasing authoritarianism and polarisation

President elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine: critics say he may lead the Nato member and EU candidate further away from Ataturk’s secular ideals. Photograph: EPA

President elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine: critics say he may lead the Nato member and EU candidate further away from Ataturk’s secular ideals. Photograph: EPA


Turkey’s election board chairman confirmed last night that prime minister Tayyip Erdogan had won the majority of votes in the country’s presidential election.

After an election yesterday that his opponents say may create an increasingly authoritarian state, broadcasters said Mr Erdogan had 52 per cent of the vote, 13 points more than his closest rival. Such a result would rule out a run-off round and seal Mr Erdogan’s place in history as Turkey’s first directly elected head of state, a role expected to enhance his power.

In a Twitter message confirmed by his office, justice minister Bekir Bozdag said: “Erdogan has become the first president elected by the people.” The deputy chairman of his ruling AK party said Mr Erdogan won with just over 52 per cent.

Mr Erdogan said, “The people have shown their will,” but stopped short of declaring victory in comments to supporters in Istanbul. He said he would speak later at party headquarters in the capital Ankara once the count was complete.

Economic force

Turkey has emerged as a regional economic force under the 60-year-old, who, as prime minister for more than a decade, has ridden a wave of religiously conservative support to transform the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk 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. The main opposition candidate, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, was on 38.8 per cent with 90 per cent of votes counted while Selahattin Demirtas of the pro-Kurdish, left-wing People’s Democratic Party was on 9.2 per cent, said television stations CNN Turk and NTV.

Turkey’s electoral authorities are not officially due to announce their first results until today, with final figures due later in the week.

In a tea house in the working-class Istanbul district of Tophane, men watching election coverage on television praised Mr Erdogan as a pious man of the people who had boosted Turkey’s status economically and on the international stage. “Erdogan is on the side of the underdog. He is the defender against injustice. While the Arab world was silent, he spoke out against Israel on Gaza,” said Murat, a 42-year-old 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. Mr Erdogan has opened a peace process with Kurdish PKK militants to end a conflict which has killed 40,000 people in 30 years.

Low turnout

The voting turnout, which exceeded 89 per cent in March local elections, appeared to be low, OSCE Parliamentary Assembly observer George Tsereteli told reporters.

Opinion polls had put Mr 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 Mr 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 significance.

A rapturous crowd cheered and chanted “Turkey is proud of you” and “President Erdogan” as he emerged from a school where he voted with his wife and children on the Asian side of Istanbul. He waved and shook people’s hands. – (Reuters)