Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the man with future of Turkey in his hands

Prime minister wins nation's first direct presidential election, sparking fears that changing the ceremonial role will lead to an authoritarian rule

PUBLISHED : Monday, 11 August, 2014, 7:49pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 August, 2014, 9:26am

Turkey's ruling party began deliberations on the shape of the next government yesterday after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured his place in history by winning the nation's first direct presidential election.

Erdogan's victory in Sunday's vote takes him a step closer to the executive presidency he covets. But it is an outcome which his opponents fear will herald an increasingly authoritarian rule.

Turkey’s next premier will govern in Mr Erdogan’s shadow

In the coming weeks, Erdogan will for the last time chair meetings of the ruling AK Party he founded and oversee the selection of a new party leader, likely to be a staunch loyalist and his future prime minister.

He will be inaugurated on August 28.

"Today is a new day, a milestone for Turkey, the birthday of Turkey, of its rebirth from the ashes," Erdogan, 60, told thousands of supporters from the balcony of the AK Party headquarters in Ankara.

Supporters honking car horns and waving flags took to the streets in Ankara after results on Turkish television said Erdogan, the prime minister for more than a decade, had won 52 per cent of the vote. It was a narrower margin of victory than polls had suggested but still 13 points more than his closest rival, and comfortably enough to avoid the need for a second round run-off.

The chairman of the High Election Board confirmed Erdogan had a majority, with more than 99 per cent of votes counted, and said full provisional figures would be released later.

Erdogan has vowed to exercise the full powers granted to the presidency under current laws, unlike predecessors who played a mainly ceremonial role. But he has made no secret of his plans to change the constitution and forge an executive presidency.

"I want to underline that I will be the president of all 77 million people, not only those who voted for me. I will be a president who works for the flag, for the country, for the people," he said.

The electoral map suggested that might not be easy. While the expanses of the conservative Anatolian heartlands voted overwhelmingly for him, the more liberal western Aegean and Mediterranean coastal fringe was dominated by main opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, and the southeastern corner by Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas.

Turkey has emerged as a regional economic force under Erdogan, who has ridden a wave of religiously conservative support to transform the secular republic founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk on the ruins of the Ottoman empire 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.

Financial markets are likely to take the victory of a prime minister who has overseen a decade of growth and stability as a sign of continuity, at least in the short term.

Few investors had doubted the outcome.

"This was more of a coronation than an election, with the result preordained quite some time ago," said Dr Nicholas Spiro, managing director of London-based Spiro Sovereign Strategy.

But in the long term, there are concerns about concentration of power in the hands of a sometimes impulsive leader.

"Mr Erdogan continues to dominate Turkey's political scene and is eager to turn the presidency into an executive, hands-on role. He called the shots as premier and he will keep calling the shots as president," Spiro said.

"Turkey's next premier will govern in Mr Erdogan's shadow."

Ihsanoglu, a former diplomat and academic, won 38.5 per cent of the vote according to broadcasters CNN Turk and NTV.

Demirtas took 9.7 per cent, a result for an ethnic Kurd that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago as Turkey battled a Kurdish rebellion and sought to quell demands from the ethnic minority.