An unofficial vote count indicates Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is set to win the country's first ever direct presidential election in the first round, cementing his position as Turkey's all-powerful leader, the state-run Anadolu news agency said Sunday.
When nearly 52 percent of ballot boxes were counted Erdogan had the support of 55.68 percent of Turks, according to the count by Anadolu. His main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, had 35.79 percent and the third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, had 8.41 percent.
The Anadolu agency has employees stationed at every ballot station, who send the results to its headquarters in Ankara. Turkey's electoral commission is not expected to announce any official results until Monday.
Now in his third term as prime minister at the head of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Erdogan has been a polarizing figure.
He is fervently supported by many as a man of the people who has led Turkey through a period of economic prosperity. His critics, however, 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.
Erdogan could use a presidential victory to endow the largely ceremonial position with a slew of new executive powers, Monitor correspondent Alexander Christie-Miller reported Saturday.
While he has insisted in recent days that he will not overstep the limits of the currently ceremonial office, his opponents fear he will run the country much as has in the past, with a loyal placeholder prime minister. He has also made clear that he wishes to reform the post, granting it US-style executive power.
But Ceren Kenar, a columnist for the pro-government Turkiye Daily, believes the lack of formal powers Erdogan will have as president could ultimately undermine his grip. Previous Turkish prime ministers Suleyman Demirel and Turgut Ozal were both weakened after making a similar transition, she notes.
Erdogan's efforts to empower the office through constitutional changes may be blocked by the requirement of a two-thirds vote.