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Victory in Turkish election

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory Sunday after unofficial election returns showed him winning re-election to an office that will be endowed with sweeping new powers that critics warned could place the country under one-man rule.

Unofficial results published by the state news agency showed the 64-year-old leader winning more than 50 per cent of the vote — enough to avoid a runoff. However, his closest challenger, Muharrem Ince, refused to concede defeat while results from the national election authority were pending.

The presidential election and a parliamentary election also held Sunday took place more than a year early. They were the last step needed to complete Turkey's transition from a parliamentary system of government to a strong presidential system, a change voters approved last year.

"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 vote count published by the state-run Anadolu news agency had him receiving 52.5 per cent of the vote and the secular Ince, his nearest challenger, 30.7 per cent.

Cheering Erdogan supporters waving Turkish flags gathered outside the president's official residence in Istanbul, chanting, "Here's the president, here's the commander."

Thousands of jubilant supporters of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, or HDP, also spilled into the streets of the predominantly Kurdish southeastern city of Diyarbakir after unofficial results from Anadolu showed the party surpassing the 10 per cent threshold needed to enter parliament and garnering 11.5 per cent of the vote.

The HDP's performance was a particular success since presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas, eight more of its lawmakers and thousands of party members campaigned from jails and prisons. HDP says more than 350 of its election workers have been detained since April 28.

The imprisoned Demirtas, who has been jailed pending trial on terrorism-related charges he has called trumped-up and politically motivated, was in third place in the presidential race with 8.3 per cent of the vote, according to Anadolu.

Erdogan insisted the expanded powers of the Turkish presidency will bring prosperity and stability to the country, especially after a failed military coup attempt in 2016. A state of emergency imposed after the coup remains in place.

Some 50,000 people have been arrested and 110,000 civil servants have been fired under the emergency, which opposition lawmakers say Erdogan has used to stifle dissent.

The Turkish Parliament will legislate and have the right to ratify or reject the budget. With Erdogan remaining at the helm of his party, a loyal parliamentary majority could reduce checks and balances on his power unless the opposition can wield an effective challenge.

The president's critics have warned that Erdogan's re-election would cement his already firm grip on power and embolden a leader they accuse of showing increasingly autocratic tendencies.

Erdogan's apparent win comes at a critical time for Turkey. He recently has led a high-stakes foreign affairs gamble, cozying up to Russian President Vladimir Putin with pledges to install a Russian missile defence system in the NATO-member country.

Ince said the results carried on Anadolu misrepresented the official vote count by the country's electoral board. The main opposition party that nominated him for the presidency, the CHP, said it was waiting for an official announcement from the country's electoral board.

The unofficial results for the parliamentary election showed Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, or AKP, losing its majority, with 293 seats in the 600-seat legislature. However, the small nationalist party the AKP allied with garnered 49 seats.

"Even though we could not reach out goal in parliament, God willing we will be working to solve that with all our efforts in the People's Alliance," Erdogan said.

The president, who has never lost an election and has been in power since 2003, initially as prime minister, had faced a more robust, united opposition than ever before. Opposition candidates had vowed to return Turkey to a parliamentary democracy with strong checks and balances and have decried what they call Erdogan's "one-man rule."

Critics say he has become increasingly autocratic and intolerant of dissent. The election campaign was heavily skewed in his favour, with opposition candidates struggling to get their speeches aired on television in a country where Erdogan directly or indirectly controls most of the media.

Ince, a 54-year-old former physics teacher, was backed by the centre-left opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP. He wooed crowds with an unexpectedly engaging campaign, drawing massive numbers at his rallies in Turkey's three main cities of Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir.

More than 59 million Turkish citizens, including 3 million expatriates, were eligible to vote.



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