ISTANBUL -- Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was proclaimed the winner early today of another term with new executive powers that critics say will cement what they call his "one-man regime."
"The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty," Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul after a near-complete count carried by the state-run news agency gave him the majority needed to avoid a runoff.
The head of Turkey's Supreme Election Council, Sadi Guven, declared Erdogan the winner early today after 97.7 percent of votes had been counted. The electoral board plans to announce final official results on Friday.
Near-complete results carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed Erdogan winning an outright majority of 52.5 percent, far ahead of the 30.7 percent for his main challenger, the secular Muharrem Ince.
Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas, who ran his campaign from prison where he has been held since November 2016 pending trial on terrorism-related charges, was garnering 8.3 percent. He has called the charges trumped-up and politically motivated.
The presidential election and a parliamentary election also held Sunday complete NATO-member Turkey's transition from a parliamentary system of government to a strong presidential system. Voters approved the change in a referendum last year. Erdogan called the presidential election more than a year early amid signs the country was heading toward an economic downturn.
Erdogan, 64, has been in power since 2003. He has insisted that the expanded powers -- which include the authority to impose states of emergency and to issue decrees -- would bring prosperity and stability to Turkey, especially after a failed military coup attempt in 2016.
"God willing, Turkey will start flying with this system," Erdogan said of the executive presidency at a rally in Istanbul on Saturday, the Reuters news agency reported.
A state of emergency has been in place since the coup attempt, and some 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under Erdogan's emergency powers.
The president's critics warned that Erdogan's re-election would cement the grip on power of a leader who they accuse of showing increasingly autocratic tendencies.
"We are crossing the last bridge before it falls," said Burcu Akcaru, who helped found the opposition Good Party last year. "Then we leave the country."
For the first time in years, an organized and revitalized opposition mounted a challenge both to Erdogan and his ruling party's majority in parliament, coalescing around their desire to see him voted out of power. Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances.
They largely united around Ince, 54, of the Republican People's Party. He drew millions of people to campaign rallies across the country.
"If Erdogan wins, your phones will continue to be listened to. ... Fear will continue to reign," Ince said at a rally in Istanbul on Saturday, Reuters reported. "If Ince wins, the courts will be independent."
In a campaign speech recorded in prison, Demirtas had urged Turks to grab the opportunity to vote against Erdogan before entering a "dark and obscure tunnel."
"What you go through nowadays is only a trailer of the one-man regime. The most frightening part of the movie hasn't even started yet," he said. "Everything will be arranged in accordance with the desire, pleasure and interests of one man. You will feel unable to breathe in a regime of fear and despair; you will feel like you are strangled."
Erdogan also declared victory for the People's Alliance, an electoral coalition between his ruling Justice and Development Party and the small Nationalist Movement Party, saying they had a "parliamentary majority" in the 600-member assembly.
The unofficial results for the parliamentary election showed Erdogan's Justice and Development Party losing its majority, with 293 seats in the 600-seat legislature. However, the Nationalist Movement Party garnered 49 seats.
"Even though we could not reach our goal in parliament, God willing we will be working to solve that with all our efforts in the People's Alliance," Erdogan told cheering supporters outside his official residence in Istanbul.
Based on unofficial results, five parties passed the 10 percent support threshold required for parties to enter parliament, Guven said. Among them was the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, with 11.5 percent. The party celebrated its entry into parliament, since nine of its lawmakers, including Demirtas, and thousands of party members were jailed during the campaign.
The party said more than 350 of its election workers have been detained since April 28.
Ince, speaking just after polls closed, warned civil servants involved in the vote count to do their jobs "abiding by the law" and without fear, suggesting they were under pressure by the government. He asked all Turks to be vigilant at polls and not be "demoralized" by what he called the possible manipulation of news.
Erdogan is the most powerful leader since the founder of the Turkish republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. He remains popular in the conservative and pious heartland, having empowered previously disenfranchised groups.
From a modest background himself, he has presided over an infrastructure boom that has modernized Turkey and lifted many out of poverty while also raising Islam's profile, for instance by lifting a ban on Islamic headscarves in schools and public offices.
But critics say he has become increasingly intolerant of dissent and opposition. The election campaign was heavily skewed in his favor, with opposition candidates struggling to get their speeches aired on television. Erdogan directly or indirectly controls most of Turkey's media.
More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were eligible to vote.
Hours into Sunday's presidential election, Turkey's main opposition parties complained that voting was marred by irregularities.
Sadi Guven, head of the country's election board, said a probe is under way in the town of Suruc near the southern border with Syria, according to Hurriyet newspaper. "There are complaints coming from the east and the southeast," Kemal Kilicdaroglu, head of the Republican People's Party, said after voting in the capital, Ankara.
Irregularities reported by the media range from alleged mass casting of ballots on behalf of others to blocking access for officials of the Republican People's Party and Peoples' Democratic Party to polling stations. Turkey has also blocked some elections observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe from entering the country, and on Sunday started legal action against 10 Europeans who officials said were introducing themselves as observers without accreditation.
Fatih Dulgeroglu, a local governor in the heavily east, said scuffles broke out as some members of the Kurdish party said they were being prevented from voting. In Sanliurfa province, near Syria, video circulating on social media of a man trying to cast a stack of ballots in his hand has fueled tensions that reportedly triggered fist fights.
The Kurdish party had already struggled with the relocation of thousands of polling stations in predominantly Kurdish provinces. Turkish authorities cited security reasons for the moves, which forced some 144,000 voters to travel farther to cast their ballots. Some even had to pass through security checkpoints to vote.
At a voting station in Seyrantepe, a working-class district of Istanbul, election monitors from the Republican People's Party said they were compiling their own count nationwide. If it doesn't tally with the officially announced results, said Bektas Ozcelik, 58, "then we're ready to exercise our right to object. Wouldn't you?"
Most voters at the Seyrantepe ballot station said they were backing Erdogan.
"People forget what it was like before," said Vahap Karayilan, 63, who runs a freight trucking business. "The water got cut off, the garbage wasn't collected."
Karayilan recalled taking his elderly father to the hospital in those days and standing in line all night.
"Now we call, we get appointment, we go and it's all sorted out," he said. "Our hospitals are shiny and new."
Tuncay Tek said he voted for Erdogan and his party on Sunday.
"I remember a time when we had to wake up at 4 a.m. to go to the hospital because the lines were so long. I remember when we had to wait five days to get bread," he said. "Erdogan is a godsend."
In Ankara, voters at a primary school in the Cankaya district said the lines were longer than usual. Cigdem Akin, a 38-year-old homemaker, said she hadn't felt this excited about an election since she started voting. She didn't say who she'd voted for -- but it clearly wasn't Erdogan.
"When other candidates are talking at rallies, the media cut the broadcast off halfway through," she said. "It wasn't in line with a democratic system."
Information for this article was contributed by Suzan Fraser, Elena Becatoros, Zeynep Bilginsoy and Mehmet Guzel of The Associated Press; by Erin Cunningham of The Washington Post; by Carlotta Gall of The New York Times; and by Selcan Hacaoglu, Firat Kozok and Ben Holland of Bloomberg News.
Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate outside the Justice and Development party headquarters Sunday in Istanbul.
A Section on 06/25/2018
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