Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared himself the winner of a high-stakes election, surviving the most serious challenge yet to his political dominance and tightening his grip on the nation he has ruled for 15 years.
But the opposition cried foul, claiming that state media and the election commission had manipulated the results and saying it was too early to be sure of the outcome.
An official result is expected later Sunday. If Erdogan’s victory is officially confirmed, he will gain sweeping new powers when he resumes office. He narrowly won a referendum last year to transform the country’s parliamentary system to a powerful executive presidency, in what his critics called a blatant power grab.
Erdogan also said his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allied Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had together retained their control of parliament.
The results were a blow to Erdogan’s closest rival, Muharrem Ince and his Republican People’s Party (CHP), who had seemed on the verge of forcing the President into a damaging runoff and denying the AKP-MHP alliance a parliamentary majority.
“Our nation has given me the mandate for the presidency,” Erdogan said in a victory speech in Istanbul, noting his declaration was based on unofficial results.
“I would like to congratulate our nation once again. This has been another test of democracy and we have passed this test successfully.”
Around 59 million people were eligible to vote in both presidential and parliamentary elections Sunday. Erdogan said the participation rate was 90%, an extraordinarily high number for any election.
State news agency Anadolu reported that the President had sailed through the snap vote at 52.7%, with more than 96% of the ballots counted. It also said the AKP-MHP coalition had more than 53% of the parliamentary vote, with over 98% of the votes counted.
But the opposition CHP said that around half the ballot boxes had not yet been counted, and called on party monitors to stay by the ballot boxes and keep watching.
A spokesman for Erodgan’s AKP, Mahir Unal, dismissed the accusations and warned party leaders of “harsh outcomes” to any provocations.
Opposition parties will have five days after the vote to lodge any complaints or challenges.
Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics since his rise as prime minister in 2003 and has transformed the nation. He implemented policies that encouraged sustained economic growth and development, he challenged Turkey’s secular foundations by bringing Islamic conservatism to public life and he gutted public institutions by having tens of thousands of people — many of them his critics — arrested following a failed military coup in 2016.
Erdogan himself called the snap elections 18 months early, as he faces battles on several fronts: Turkish voters are feeling the pain of soaring inflation, a plunging currency and high interest rates as the economy falters, and the normally splintered opposition is largely united against him for the first time in years. By offering a wider than usual range of presidential candidates, the opposition had hoped to split the vote enough ways to leave the frontrunner with less than 50% of the ballots.
Erdogan has won several consecutive elections to become Turkey’s longest-serving leader, but a strong campaign by Ince triggered speculation the President may fail to win outright.