Skip to main content

Turkey picks a president: What to know about Erdogan's victory

August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1405 GMT (2205 HKT)
  • Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won the country's first direct presidential election
  • The president's role is more formal, he represents the country as the head of the state
  • But Erdogan has already indicated he will seek more powers as the president

Editor's note: Viewing this on mobile? Click here to see the infographic.

(CNN) -- Turks have picked prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be the country's first directly elected president.

Erdogan secured 52% of the votes in the first round of the presidential election, narrowly avoiding a runoff, according to Turkish election board.

Turkey is a parliamentary democracy and the prime minister is the head of its government. The president's role is more formal, and represents the country as the head of the state -- similar to the Queen in the UK.

But Erdogan has already indicated he would like to see more powers being transferred to the presidential palace, speaking about a "new era" in his victory speech.

"With the president elected directly by the citizens, all barriers between the people and the presidential palace have been removed," he was reported as saying in his speech by the Turkish media.

Here is what you need to know about the historic election.

İhsanoğlu: No need for tension in region
Erdogan criticizes Egypt's approach to Gaza
Demirtaş: Turkey needs fundamental change
Turkish President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, Emnine, cheer their supporters after the results of elections at the headquarters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara on Sunday, August 10. Erdogan will become the country's first directly elected president by a wide margin of votes, according the semi-official Anadolu News Agency. Turkish President-elect Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife, Emnine, cheer their supporters after the results of elections at the headquarters of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara on Sunday, August 10. Erdogan will become the country's first directly elected president by a wide margin of votes, according the semi-official Anadolu News Agency.
Turkey's presidential vote
Turkey\'s presidential vote Turkey's presidential vote

Why does Erdogan want to be president if he is more powerful as prime minister?

The former mayor of Istanbul and the leader and co-founder of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2003 and has been serving his third term as prime minister. While the constitution would have allowed Erdogan to run again when his term finishes next year, his own party rules prohibited him from seeking fourth term.

His transition to presidency was seen as a logical step for a politician who wanted to maintain political power. Karabekir Akkoyunlu, researcher at the London School of Economics, said the country's constitution -- drawn up by the military junta in 1982 -- gave the head of state significant authority.

Erdogan, Akkoyunlu said, would likely push those to the limit by " invoking the 'national will' he claims to embody."

What issues will he face next?

The Kurdish peace process is one of the most pressing issues of the coming months. Turkey passed a law in July establishing a legal framework for peace talks with the Kurdish militants to end three decades of insurgency.

"The Kurdish peace process is also linked with regional dynamics and the rise of the Islamic State, which is now threatening the Kurds in northern Iraq and Syria," Akkoyunlu said.

Erdogan will also have to work with the government in trying to tackle Turkey's economic troubles. The IMF and OECD have both warned Turkey's economy remains vulnerable to dangers outside its borders. High inflation, low employment and the country's chronic inequality are putting it at risk.

Who else was running?

The main opposition parties, the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) had nominated Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu as their joint candidate. The former secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) was campaigning on the idea of national unity and secured 38% of the vote.

Selahattin Demirtas, a left-wing politician popular with Turkey's Kurdish minority, ran for the Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) and finished third with 10%. Around 25% of people in Turkey identify themselves as Kurdish.

Why does this matter?

Turkey's geographical position and cultural make-up has contributed to the country being seen as a powerful bridge between Asia and Europe. Its membership of NATO and candidacy to join the European Union reflect its importance.

The country's $800 billion economy is among the 20 biggest in the world and attracts $200 billion in foreign direct investment every year.

Turkey also plays a key role in the Middle East, bordering Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Read more: How Turkey turned into economic mess
Opinion: Turkey's Teflon politician targets top post
John Defterios: Erdogan looks to secure his place in history

Part of complete coverage on
August 11, 2014 -- Updated 1405 GMT (2205 HKT)
Turks are heading to the polls this weekend to vote for their first directly elected president. This is what you should know.
August 7, 2014 -- Updated 1250 GMT (2050 HKT)
How Erdogan performs if he wins the election will determine if Turkey can restore its luster as an engine for growth and a regional political force.
August 7, 2014 -- Updated 1016 GMT (1816 HKT)
Turkey's economy, fattened with foreign investment during its boom-times, has stalled amid warnings its model is unsustainable.
August 6, 2014 -- Updated 1148 GMT (1948 HKT)
Turkey will hold its first direct presidential election, yet the mood about the country can hardly be described as electric.
July 25, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Turkey's mainstream culture is deeply suspicious of "difference" -- be it cultural, ethnic or sexual, author Elif Shafak writes.
July 28, 2014 -- Updated 0314 GMT (1114 HKT)
Nobel Prize-winning author Orhan Pamuk is neither afraid to confront the human condition in his novels, nor his country's past and political present.
July 30, 2014 -- Updated 1847 GMT (0247 HKT)
Turkish social media has exploded with Tweets and Instagrams of Turkish women laughing. Why? Hala Gorani explains.
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1646 GMT (0046 HKT)
Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan talks about the situation in Gaza and his country's relationship with Qatar.
July 22, 2014 -- Updated 1641 GMT (0041 HKT)
Turkish presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas speaks with CNN's Becky Anderson about domestic & regional issues.
March 28, 2014 -- Updated 1328 GMT (2128 HKT)
Binnaz Saktanber recently moved back to Turkey after spending a decade abroad. How does she feel about the return?
July 24, 2014 -- Updated 1751 GMT (0151 HKT)
CNN's Becky Anderson speaks to leading opposition candidate Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu about upcoming Turkish presidential elections.
May 31, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
A CNN correspondent is harassed by plainclothes police as he was reporting on tensions between the officers and demonstrators in Istanbul.
March 31, 2014 -- Updated 1045 GMT (1845 HKT)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dominated debates leading up to Sunday's local elections, even though he wasn't on the ballot.
April 3, 2014 -- Updated 1620 GMT (0020 HKT)
Turkey's ban on the social media service Twitter has been lifted, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's office said Thursday.
August 5, 2014 -- Updated 1358 GMT (2158 HKT)
Turkey banned the the Mevlevis -- or "Whirling Dervishes" in 1925 but has since eased restrictions, allowing public worship.
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 0907 GMT (1707 HKT)
Istanbul skyline
CNN's Ivan Watson has lived in Istanbul for 12 years, using the city as a base for covering news in the Middle East and Asia.