ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory in Turkey’s presidential election on Sunday, a win that would steer his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade.
Addressing supporters, Erdogan said voters had given him the responsibility to rule for the next five years.
“The only winner is Turkey,” he said, addressing cheering supporters from atop a bus in Istanbul.
Final official results have yet to be released.
There was no immediate response to Erdogan’s victory speech from his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
The election had been seen as one of the most consequential yet for Turkey, with the opposition believing it had a strong chance of unseating Erdogan after his popularity was hit by a cost-of-living crisis.
Instead, victory will reinforce his image of invincibility, after having already redrawn domestic, economic, security and foreign policy in the NATO member country of 85 million people and positioned Turkey as a regional power.
Supporters gathered at his Istanbul residence in anticipation of victory as data reported by both state-run Anadolu agency and the opposition ANKA news agency gave him the edge with nearly 99% of ballot boxes counted.
The head of the High Election Board earlier told a news conference that Erdogan was leading Kilicdaroglu with 54.47% support, with 54.6% of ballot boxes logged.
Erdogan, head of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, appealed to voters with nationalist and conservative rhetoric during a divisive campaign that deflected attention from deep economic troubles.
The defeat of Kilicdaroglu, who promised to set the country on a more democratic and collaborative path, would likely be cheered in Moscow but mourned in Western capitals and much of the Middle East after Turkey took a more confrontational and independent stance in foreign affairs.
Erdogan supporters who were gathered outside his Istanbul residence chanted Allahu Akbar, or God is Greatest.
“I expect everything to become better,” said Nisa, 28, a headscarved woman wearing a headband with Erdogan’s name.
Another Erdogan supporter said Turkey would get stronger with him in office for five more years.
“There are issues, problems in every country around the world, in European countries as well… With strong leadership we will overcome Turkey’s problems as well,” said Mert, 39, who had come to celebrate with his son.
Bugra Oztug, 24, who voted for Kilicdaroglu, said she was not surprised at the result, blaming the opposition for failing to change.
“I feel sad and disappointed but I am not hopeless. I still think there are people who can see the realities and truth,” Oztug said.
Erdogan’s performance has wrong-footed opponents who also thought voters would punish him over the state’s initially slow response to devastating earthquakes in February, in which more than 50,000 people died.
But in the first round of voting on May 14, which included parliamentary elections, his AK Party emerged top in 10 of the 11 provinces hit by the earthquakes, helping it secure a parliamentary majority along with its allies.