ANKARA, Turkey — Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory in Turkey's first direct presidential election Sunday, a watershed vote in the country's nearly 91-year history that will ensure the current prime minister remains at its helm for at least another five years.
"I thank everyone who appointed me the 12th president of the Turkish Republic," Erdogan said in a victory speech delivered from the balcony of his Justice and Development Party headquarters in Ankara.
The three-time prime minister will now have to step down from that post and appoint a replacement.
"Today the national will won once again, today democracy won once again," he told a crowd of thousands of flag-waving and cheering supporters, striking a conciliatory and unifying tone after a bitter campaign marked by polarizing rhetoric.
"You did not choose a president through an intermediary, you chose him yourself," Erdogan told his supporters. Until now, it was Parliament that elected Turkey's presidents.
With 99 percent of ballot boxes counted, Erdogan had 51.95 percent of the vote, according to figures from the state-run Anadolu news agency, which had reporters at ballot counting stations across the country. Erdogan's main rival, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, had 38.34 percent and the third candidate, Selahattin Demirtas, had 9.71 percent.
Supreme Election Council head Sadi Guven said Erdogan had won but that no official results would be released until Monday.
He added that no ballots would be printed for a runoff that would have been held had nobody won an absolute majority.
Ihsanoglu conceded defeat in a brief speech in Istanbul.
"I hope that the result is beneficial for democracy in Turkey," Ihsanoglu said. "I congratulate the prime minister and wish him success."
The first round victory will also allow Erdogan to press ahead with his plans to strengthen the powers of the presidency — which until now was largely a ceremonial post.
Becatoros reported from Istanbul.