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Erdogan declares victory in Turkish presidential election

Turkey's main opposition CHP say it is too early to call victory for Erdogan, as votes from largest cities are still not counted
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shakes hands with supporters as he leaves polling station in Istanbul on Sunday (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared victory in Sunday's presidential election and said his ruling party-led alliance had won an overall majority in parliament.

"The unofficial results of the elections have become clear. According to these... I have been entrusted by the nation with the task and duties of the presidency," Erdogan said at his Istanbul residence, adding that the alliance led by his Justice and Development Party (AKP) had won the majority in parliament.

Turkish voters for the first time cast ballots for both president and parliament in the snap polls, with Erdogan looking for a first round knockout and an overall majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) to extend his 15-year grip on power.

Erdogan was at 52.8 percent with 95.1 percent of the votes counted, broadcasters said. Muharrem Ince, the main opposition's presidential candidate, stood at about 30 percent nationwide, television channels said. If no candidate won more than 50 percent, a second round run-off would be held in July.

Although the margin of their lead had narrowed steadily as votes were tallied across the nation of 81 million people, an AKP official said Erdogan was now expected to win more than the 50 percent required to avoid a runoff.

An unexpectedly strong showing by the AKP’s alliance partner, the nationalist MHP, may also mean Erdogan secures the parliamentary majority he seeks to govern freely.

Still, Turkey's main opposition said it was too early to call a victory for Erdogan, as votes from the largest cities were still not counted, adding that the contest would go to a second round.

Bulent Tezcan, the spokesman for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), made the comments at a news conference, citing what he said was the party's own data.

Executive presidency

Sunday's vote may usher in a powerful new executive presidency long sought by Erdogan and backed by a small majority of Turks in a 2017 referendum. Critics say it will further erode democracy in the NATO member state and entrench one-man rule.

Results being compiled by the Fair Election Platform, formed by opposition parties, also pointed to Erdogan winning the presidency in the first round with about 53 percent.

In the parliamentary contest, the AK Party had 43 percent and its MHP ally nearly 11 percent, based on 90 percent of votes counted, broadcasters said.

In the opposition camp, the CHP had 22 percent and the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) 10.3 percent, crucially above the 10 percent threshold needed to enter parliament.

The HDP's presidential candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, has waged his campaign from a prison near the Greek border as he awaits trial on terrorism-related charges, which he denies. He had 7.4 percent, based on more than 80 percent of votes cast.

AKP supporters clogged a main road in the capital Ankara leading to party headquarters honking horns in celebration. Erdogan was expected to address supporters from a balcony of the headquarters building later in the evening.

Election turnout nationwide was very high at around 87 percent for both contests, the state broadcaster said.

Opposition parties and NGOs deployed up to half a million monitors at ballot boxes to ward against possible electoral fraud. They have said election law changes and fraud allegations in the 2017 referendum raise fears about the fairness of Sunday's elections.

Erdogan said there had been no serious voting violations.

"Turkey is staging a democratic revolution," he told reporters after casting his own vote in Istanbul on Sunday.

"With the presidential system, Turkey is seriously raising the bar, rising above the level of contemporary civilisations."

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Erdogan, the most popular but also divisive leader in modern Turkish history, argues the new powers will better enable him to tackle the nation's economic problems - the lira has lost 20 percent against the dollar this year - and crush Kurdish rebels in southeast Turkey and in neighbouring Iraq and Syria.

Investors would welcome the prospect of a stable working relationship between the president and the new parliament, although they also have concerns about Erdogan's recent comments suggesting he wants to take greater control of monetary policy.

Erdogan has declared himself an "enemy of interest rates", raising fears he will pressure the central bank to cut borrowing costs after the election despite double-digit inflation.

He brought forward the elections from November 2019, but he reckoned without Ince, a former physics teacher and veteran CHP lawmaker, whose feisty performance at campaign rallies has galvanized Turkey's long-demoralised and divided opposition.

Turkey held Sunday's elections under a state of emergency declared after a failed military coup in July 2016. This state restricts some freedoms and allows the government to bypass parliament with decrees. Both Erdogan and Ince have said they will lift the state of emergency as president.