ISTANBUL :– Turkey’s national electoral board has pronounced incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as the winner of the country’s presidential election with an “absolute majority” of valid votes.
Speaking early Monday, the head of the Supreme Election Council said 97.7 percent of votes had been counted. Sadi Guven said the remaining votes would not affect the outcome of Erdogan’s re-election.
The vote also ushered in an executive presidency system giving Erdogan sweeping new powers.
Guven also announced that unofficial results showed five parties had passed the 10 percent election threshold required to enter parliament.
They are Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, its allied Nationalist Movement Party, the main secular opposition Republican People’s Party, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party and the center-right Good Party.
Earlier, on Sunday night, in an address to the nation, Erdogan said that “with almost 90 percent turnout rate in the elections, Turkey has given a very good democracy lesson to all the world.”
Erdogan, 64, also declared victory for the People’s Alliance, an electoral cooperation between his ruling Justice and Development Party and the small Nationalist Movement Party, saying they had a “parliamentary majority” in the 600-member assembly.
After Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that Erdogan quickly held a commanding lead, state broadcaster TRT announced Erdogan the winner of the presidency with 52.7 percent of the vote and his party’s electoral alliance won a majority in parliament.
Erdogan needed more than 50 percent of the vote to avoid a runoff next month.
The main opposition candidate, Muharrem Ince of the Republican People’s Party, contested the tally reported by the pro-government Anadolu, saying fewer ballot boxes had actually been counted and accusing the agency of “manipulation” of the results.
Republican People’s Party spokesman Bulent Tezcan accused Anadolu of making up numbers for the results. “There is a high probability the presidential election will go to a second round,” he said.
The elections for both president and parliament complete Turkey’s transformation from a parliamentary to presidential system of government that grants sweeping powers to the president, who previously was a figurehead. The switch was approved in a referendum last year.
Turkey’s opposition leaders, who defied predictions and mounted a fierce campaign against Erdogan and his ruling party, framed the elections as a choice between democracy and further authoritarian rule.
After the failed military coup in 2016, tens of thousands of government opponents have been jailed, more than 100,000 people have been fired or suspended from government positions, and Turkey has become the top jailer of journalists in the world.
Sunday’s vote took place under a state of emergency, and Erdogan’s allies control around 90 percent of the country’s media.
Selahattin Demirtas, the presidential candidate of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, campaigned from a prison cell where he has been jailed for nearly two years on charges he says are politicized.
“On one side there is a government that is threatening the republic, and on the other side there are people who are trying to defend and safeguard it,” said Turgut Apaydin, 44, an actor in Istanbul who voted for Ince. “If Erdogan wins, there are going to be a lot of problems in the country. Oppression will increase.”
While much of Erdogan’s popularity was the result of Turkey’s economic transformation under his decade-and-a half-rule, many Turkish citizens have been exasperated by a deteriorating economy in recent years.
In the lead-up to the elections, a plunging currency helped boost support for the opposition.
“The country is falling apart, we are in debt, [there is] the currency crisis.” said Ayse Yildirim, 46, who voted for the People’s Democratic Party. She said a win for Erdogan would be “catastrophic.”
“As for as political freedoms go, this is a state of fear,” she said.
While opponents of the president decried a growing authoritarian rule, his supporters said Erdogan, who has been in power since 2003 as prime minister and then president, has transformed the country and could bring unity and stability if granted sweeping powers.
“You cannot explain how important this election is. Its importance is as high as the Himalayas,” said Murat Toprak, 44, who voted for Erdogan and his ruling party. “The unity and future of our country are at stake.”
But while Erdogan and supporters like Toprak have called for unity, the election results reflect the deep divisions that will remain a feature of Turkish politics for the foreseeable future, said Amanda Sloat, senior fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at the Brookings Institution and a Turkey expert.
Erdogan’s ruling AK party was only able to secure a majority in parliament by partnering with the far-right MHP party, which he will continue to need for legislative success.
“While this shouldn’t diminish Erdogan’s ability to govern, it suggests his foreign policy will remain influenced by nationalist considerations,” Sloat said.
Erdogan’s win could have major implications for both Europe and the U.S.
While Turkey has played a central role in controlling immigration to Europe, European leaders have clashed Erdogan over his authoritarian turn.
Erdogan has also rattled his NATO allies by cozying up to Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Recently, Turkey has made plans with Moscow to build a nuclear reactor in Turkey and purchased an advanced Russian missile defense system.
Turkey has also become increasingly involved in the conflict in neighboring Syria and clashed with the U.S. over its partnership with the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish militant group that helped led the fight against ISIS, but which Ankara considers terrorists.
“This election is] very important because now Turkey is in Manbij and they’re going to send the Syrians back,” said Tuncay Tek, 56, a taxi driver and Erdogan supporter, referring to the northern Syrian town were Kurdish forces and American forces are stationed. “The Syrians take our jobs. That’s what our leader tells us.”
Ankara and Washington recently agreed to a plan to withdraw Kurdish forces from the city.
“Erdogan was God-sent for us. Every country has a leader who is God-sent and he is ours,” Toprak said.