ISTANBUL — Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, won the country’s first direct presidential election in the first round Sunday, an unofficial vote count showed, ensuring that he remains at the nation’s helm for at least five more years.
“It is understood that Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won an absolute majority of the votes,” election commission head Sadi Guven said in Ankara, the capital.
He added that no ballots will be printed for a runoff, which would have been held had nobody won an absolute majority, and that the official results will be announced Monday.
Erdogan’s main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, conceded defeat in a brief speech in Istanbul.
“I hope that the result is beneficial for democracy in Turkey,” Ihsanoglu said. “I congratulate the prime minister and wish him success.”
The victory will allow Erdogan, serving his third term as prime minister, to press ahead with his plans to strengthen the powers of the presidency, which until now was largely a ceremonial post.
With 98 percent of ballot boxes opened, Erdogan stood at 51.95 percent of the vote, a count by the state-run Anadolu news agency showed. Ihsanoglu had 38.34 percent, and the third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, had 9.71 percent.
“The people showed their will at the polls today,” Erdogan said in a brief speech before thousands of supporters in Istanbul on Sunday evening, but he stopped short of declaring victory.
He headed to Ankara, where he was to address supporters later Sunday night.
“The result was not a surprise. Opinion polls had indicated that he would obtain around 54 to 58 percent of the vote. He had dominated the election campaign,” said Fadi Hakura, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London.
“Mr. Erdogan will perceive this result as a decisive mandate to push ahead with his plans for an executive form of presidency,” Hakura said.
The 60-year-old Erdogan, who leads the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP), has been a polarizing figure.
Many fervently support him as a man of the people who has led Turkey through a period of economic prosperity. But critics view him as an increasingly autocratic leader bent on concentrating power and imposing his religious and conservative views on a country founded on strong secular traditions.
Hakura said the result would not alter Turkey’s course.
“Nothing will change much,” he said. “Neither his style of governance, neither domestic policy nor Turkey’s external policy.”
Legislator Huseyin Celik, an AKP spokesman, said the party — which must elect a new party leader and designate a prime minister to replace Erdogan — would hold a meeting later Sunday and another one Monday. Erdogan is widely expected to appoint a compliant prime minister so he can continue to exert control.
Party rules barred Erdogan from serving another term as prime minister. Turkish presidents used to be elected by parliament, but Erdogan’s government pushed through a constitutional amendment in 2007, changing the procedure to a popular vote.
Ihsanoglu, the 70-year-old former head of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and a political newcomer, seemed not to have won over the electoral bases of the several parties backing him.
The past 11 / 2 years have been turbulent for Erdogan, who faced widespread anti-government protests in 2013 triggered by a violent police crackdown on demonstrators objecting to a development plan for central Istanbul.
More protests erupted in May after 301 miners died in a coal-mine fire blamed on shoddy safety practices. Erdogan and his son also have been implicated in a corruption scandal that he has dismissed as a coup plot by a moderate Islamic preacher and former ally living in the United States, Fethullah Gulen.
— Associated Press