Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks set to become Turkey’s next president. Initial election results put the current prime minister on 52 percent. He has promised a " new Turkey" - something his opponents fear.
Erdogan, who led all through the count, won 52 percent of Sunday's vote, according to Turkish media. With his victory apparently certain, the pious prime minister headed to the historic Eyup Sultan Mosque in Istanbul for prayer.
"I hope that the final whistle will be blown by the referee, but the stands have made their decision," Erdogan said on Sunday. "The people have shown their will."
In a message posted to Twitter, Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag wrote that "Erdogan has become the first president elected by the people."
Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the 70-year-old joint candidate of the two largest opposition parties, had just under 39 percent of ballots. Selahattin Demirtas, a 41-year-old human rights lawyer who ran on a center-left platform for the Peoples' Democratic Party and earned the nickname "the Kurdish Obama," garnered 9 percent. Erdogan's two opponents had lagged far behind in pre-election surveys.
Ihsanoglu conceded defeat late Sunday. "I hope that the result is beneficial for democracy in Turkey," he said. "I congratulate the prime minister and wish him success."
'An important decision'
After casting his ballot in Istanbul on Sunday, Erdogan, who was barred by party rules from seeking a fourth term as prime minister, told reporters that "the people are making an important decision ... for Turkish democracy, for the future of our country."
Ahead of Sunday's election, critics feared that a victory by Erdogan, of Turkey's Justice and Development Party (AKP), could lead to more authoritarianism and less freedom of expression. Erdogan had a testy relationship with Turkish journalists who did not toe the AKP line in the last days of the election.
The prime minister's opponents had accused him of undermining the secular legacy of the country's founding father, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established a strict separation between religion and politics when he forged the new state from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire. Since becoming prime minister in 2003, Erdogan has faced little opposition in his efforts to remake Turkey to his liking.
"A ballot paper with only one name does not represent the democracy," the opposition candidate Ihsanoglu said on Sunday as he cast his ballot in Istanbul. "It does not suit Turkey." He called the campaign "unfair, disproportionate," but nonetheless had predicted that the votes of the "silent masses" would help him to victory.
State-run media put Sunday's turnout at 76 percent of the electorate; 89 percent voted in March's local elections. For the first time, Turkish citizens living abroad could vote from their countries of residence, and many turned out to do so in Germany.
mkg/ipj (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)