28th Oct 2016

Divisive Erdogan to become Turkish president

  • Recep Erdogan will become Turkey's first directly elected president after a comfortable win in Sunday's vote. (Photo: Wikipedia/Ekim Caglar)

Outgoing Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will become the country’s first directly elected president after securing a decisive victory in Sunday’s (10 August) poll.

With 99 percent of ballot boxes counted, state-run Anadolu news agency has said that Erdogan got 52 percent of the vote, with his main rivals Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, a former diplomat, and Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, taking 38 percent and 10 percent, respectively.

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By claiming an absolute majority, Erdogan avoids a second run-off election against Ihsanoglu.

The results are to be formally confirmed on Monday.

In a victory speech to thousands of supporters outside his Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) headquarters on Sunday night, Erdogan said: "I will not be the president of only those who voted for me, I will be the president of 77 million.”

He also promised to “build a new future, with an understanding of a societal reconciliation”.

The 60-year old Erdogan has been prime minister since 2003 and was barred from standing for a fourth term by internal party rules.

But despite being the country’s longest serving leader, Erdogan is seen by many as a divisive figure whose premiership has left Turkey increasingly isolated and set back its chances of progress in EU membership talks.

His critics say that his government and leadership style have become increasingly authoritarian, marked by crackdowns on press and judicial freedom as well as bans on the use of social media sites Twitter and YouTube.

Earlier this year, the US thinktank Freedom House downgraded Turkish press status from "partly free" to "not free" in its yearly report, putting the country in the same bracket as the likes of Zimbabwe and Somalia.

Meanwhile, a new internet law, denounced by EU officials, is set to give the AKP government the right to delete online content, block individual users and snoop on people’s emails.

Erdogan also faced international criticism after using police violence to break up pro-democracy protests in Istanbul last year.

However, despite this, his popularity among millions of Turks remained undimmed, with the AKP easily winning local elections in March just months after a government corruption scandal.

The Turkish presidency had previously been decided by parliament. But a referendum in 2010 introduced direct elections for the head of state, which has, until now, been a largely ceremonial post.

Erdogan has promised to be “an active president” and that he will use “the full extent of his constitutional powers” in the process, leading some to suspect that he will seek to strengthen his grip on power when he takes office at the end of August.

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