ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Tayyip Erdogan emerged victorious on Monday from his biggest electoral challenge in a decade and a half, giving him the sweeping, executive powers he has long sought and extending his grip on the nation of 81 million until at least 2023.
The most popular – yet divisive – leader in modern Turkish history, Erdogan pledged there would be no retreat from his drive to transform Turkey, a deeply polarized nation that is both a NATO member and, at least nominally, a candidate to join the European Union.
Erdogan, 64, and his ruling AK Party on Sunday claimed victory in presidential and parliamentary polls, overcoming a revitalized opposition that in recent weeks had gained considerable momentum and looked capable of staging an upset.
He took 52.5 percent of the vote in the presidential race, with more than 99 percent of the votes counted. His AK Party took 42.5 percent in the parliamentary polls, and was boosted by its nationalist allies, which outstripped expectations and took 11.1 percent.
“It is out of the question for us to turn back from where we’ve brought our country in terms of democracy and the economy,” Erdogan said in an address on Sunday.
Voter turnout was high, at nearly 87 percent.
The lira TRYTOM=D3 currency, which has lost some 20 percent of its value this year, rallied some 2 percent in early trade, while stocks .XU100 surged nearly 4 percent as investors bet that the result would lead to political stability – a positive for financial markets.
Although investors have been nervous about Erdogan’s tightening grip on power, there had been concern that the outcome of the election could lead to policy uncertainty.
A masterful campaigner, Erdogan has overseen years of strong economic growth and won the loyalty of millions of pious, working class Turks for delivering schools, hospitals and infrastructure.
But he has also launched a widening crackdown against opponents, that has seen some 160,000 people jailed and media outlets shut down.
The vote ushers in the powerful executive presidency backed by a narrow majority in a 2017 referendum. Critics have said it will further erode democracy and entrench one-man rule.
The state-run Anadolu news agency said that, based on unofficial results, the AK Party and its MHP alliance will hold 343 seats in Turkey’s 600-seat parliament, with 293 of those for the AKP and 50 for the nationalists.
The main opposition will have 146, the pro-Kurdish HDP 67 and the breakaway nationalist Iyi Party 44.
The opposition had said late on Sunday it was still too early to concede defeat. The main opposition’s candidate, the combative former teacher Muharrem Ince, took nearly 31 percent.
Ince’s silence in the aftermath of the vote brought him widespread criticism from supporters on social media.
He was due to speak at a news conference at 0900 GMT.
Erdogan has repeatedly cast his opponents as enemies of democracy, tapping into the groundswell of nationalist feeling that followed a failed coup in 2016.
“There is no stopping for us until we bring Turkey, which we saved from plotters, coupists and political and economic hitmen, street gangs and terrorist organizations, to among the top 10 economies in the world,” he said.
Reporting by Turkey bureau; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Daren Butler and Toby Chopra