Prime Minister and presidential candidate Tayyip Erdogan waves to the crowd after he voted during presidential elections in Istanbul August 10, 2014. (REUTERS/Osman Orsal)
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Turks voted Sunday in their first direct presidential election, a watershed event in the country's 91-year history that could cement Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's position as Turkey's all-powerful leader.Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, is the strong front-runner to replace incumbent Abdullah Gul for a five-year term. "The people are making an important decision ... for Turkish democracy, for the future of our country," Erdogan said after casting his ballot on the Asian side of Istanbul, the country's largest city. Now in his third term as prime minister at the head of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, or AK Party, Erdogan has been a polarizing figure. Erdogan, whose party won local elections in March with about 43 percent of the vote, is widely expected to be elected, although it is unclear if he can avoid a runoff.Party rules barred Erdogan from serving another term as prime minister. Previously a largely ceremonial role, Erdogan has vowed to transform the presidency into a powerful position -- something his detractors say proves he is bent on a power grab.
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