Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan emerged victorious on Monday from his biggest electoral challenge in a decade and a half, giving him the sweeping, executive powers he has long sought and extending his grip on the nation of 81 million until at least 2023.
The most popular – yet divisive – leader in modern Turkish history, Erdogan pledged there would be no retreat from his drive to transform Turkey, a deeply polarized nation that is both a NATO member and, at least nominally, a candidate to join the European Union.
Erdogan, 64, is loved by millions of devoutly Muslim working class Turks for delivering years of stellar economic growth and overseeing the construction of roads, bridges, hospitals and schools.
The president and his ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party claimed victory in Sunday’s presidential and parliamentary polls after defeating a revitalized opposition that in recent weeks had gained considerable momentum and looked capable of staging an upset.
“It is out of the question for us to turn back from where we’ve brought our country in terms of democracy and the economy,” Erdogan told jubilant, flag-waving supporters on Sunday night.
Critics say campaigning took place under deeply unfair conditions, with Erdogan dominating media coverage in the run-up to the vote, and his opponents getting little air time. One rival presidential candidate, the head of a pro-Kurdish party, campaigned from a prison cell, where he is detained on terrorism charges he denies. He faces 142 years in prison if convicted.
The High Election Board (YSK) said on Monday the elections had been “healthy”.
Erdogan took 52.5 percent of the vote in the presidential race, with more than 99 percent of the votes counted. His AK Party took 42.5 percent in the parliamentary polls, and was boosted by its nationalist allies, which outstripped expectations and took 11.1 percent.
Voter turnout was high, at nearly 87 percent.