Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday vowed a “new era” of reconciliation in Turkey after winning a “historic” victory in presidential elections.
“Today we are closing an era and taking the first step for a new era,” Erdogan said in a victory speech from the balcony of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) headquarters in Ankara.
“I will not be the president of only those who voted for me, I will be the president of 77 million,” he said.
“Today the national will won once again, today democracy won once again,” he told thousands of flag-waving, cheering supporters. “Those who didn’t vote for me won as much as those who did, those who don’t like me won as much as those who do.”
The three-term prime minister’s message of unity was in stark contrast to his mostly bitter, divisive pre-election campaign, when he poured scorn on his opponents, casted doubt on their Turkish identity and even accused his main challenger of being part of a shadowy coup conspiracy he said was run by a former associate living in the United States.
Sixty-year-old Erdogan is revered by many as a man of the people who ushered in a period of economic prosperity, but reviled by others as an increasingly autocratic leader trying to impose his religious and conservative views on a country with strong secular traditions.
His critics have accused him of running a heavily lopsided, unfair campaign, using the assets available to him through his office as prime minister to dominate media exposure and travel across the country. His office has rejected these claims.
“Erdogan did not win a victory today, he moved to (the presidential palace of) Cankaya through chicanery, cheating, deception and trickery,” said Devlet Bahceli, the leader of the Nationalist Action Party which backed Erdogan’s main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu.
“This person is too questionable and dubious to be seen as president,” he said.
During his victory speech, Erdogan was joined by top party officials as well as his wife Emine and the president of Kyrgyzstan, Almazbek Atambayev.
“I want to build a new future, as of today, with an understanding of a societal reconciliation, by regarding our differences as richness, and by pointing out not our differences but our common values,” Erdogan said.
“I thank each and every citizen, whether they voted for me or not, who contributed to the writing of history on such a historic day,” he added, saying the “debates of the past” would now be left behind.
“Today is a new day. Today is a milestone. Today is the day when a new Turkey is rising from the ashes.”
“It is not only Recep Tayyip Erdogan who won today. Today, national will has won once again. Today, democracy has won once again.
“We may have different political views, different lifestyles, sects, values, ethnic roots… but we are all sons of this country… each of us are the owner of this state,” he went on.
Erdogan has vowed to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a powerful position — something his detractors say proves he is bent on a power grab. He has said he will activate the post’s rarely used dormant powers — a legacy of a 1980 coup — including the ability to call parliament and summon and preside over cabinet meetings.
Legislator Huseyin Celik, the AKP spokesman, said the party — which now must elect a new party leader and designate a prime minister to replace Erdogan — would hold a meeting during the night and another one on Monday. Erdogan is widely expected to appoint a compliant prime minister so he can continue to exert control.
Party rules barred Erdogan from serving another term as prime minister. Turkish presidents used to be elected by parliament but Erdogan’s government pushed through a constitutional amendment in 2007, changing the procedure to a popular vote.