Code: 637098 A

Tayyip Erdogan won Turkey’s presidential election on Sunday, the head of the country’s electoral body said, overcoming the biggest electoral challenge to his rule in a decade and a half.

Electoral board Chairman Sadi Guven said that with more than 97 percent of votes counted, Erdogan had an absolute majority. Unofficial results broadcast on Turkish television also gave his ruling party and its alliance partner a majority in parliament.

The main opposition party did not immediately concede defeat. But after initially saying Erdogan would fall well short of a first-round victory, it said simply it would continue its democratic struggle “whatever the result”.

“Starting tomorrow, we will start working to realize the promises we made our people,” Erdogan told flag-waving supporters in a victory speech delivered from the balcony of his ruling AK Party’s headquarters in Ankara shortly after 3 a.m.

He also pledged that authorities, who have waged a nationwide crackdown since a failed military coup two years ago, would act more decisively against terrorist organizations.

Erdogan, 64, the most popular but also the most divisive politician in modern Turkey, added that Turkish forces would continue to “liberate Syrian lands” so that the 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey could return home safely.

Sunday’s vote ushered 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.

Erdogan’s victory paves the way for another five-year term. Under the new constitution, he could serve a further term from 2023, taking him to 2028.

An unexpectedly strong showing by the AK Party’s alliance partner, the nationalist MHP, could translate into the stable parliamentary majority that Erdogan seeks in order to govern freely.

“This sets the stage for speeding up reforms,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek tweeted of the results.

The lira, which has lost about a fifth of its value against the dollar this year, firmed more than 1 percent in early trading in Asia on hopes of a stable working relationship between the president and parliament. It reached 4.587 lira to the dollar at 12:17 a.m. (2117 GMT) before easing slightly.

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