ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan won an outright victory in the first round of presidential elections on Sunday, promising to be a powerful head of state amid fears his country is creeping towards one-man rule.
Erdogan won 51.8 percent of the vote, way ahead of his main opposition rival Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu on 38.6 percent, according to official results based on a 99 percent vote count.
The third contender, Kurdish candidate Selahattin Demirtas, won 9.6 percent of the vote.
Erdogan's inauguration is set for August 28.
The result marked a personal triumph for Erdogan, 60, who has served as premier since 2003 and could potentially now be president for two mandates until 2024.
He has promised to be a powerful president with a beefed-up mandate, in contrast to the ceremonial role played by his recent predecessors.
The polls are the first time Turkey -- a member of NATO and longtime hopeful to join the EU -- has directly elected its president, who was previously chosen by parliament, and Erdogan hoped for a massive show of popular support.
As the results came out, Erdogan briefly addressed hundreds of supporters in Istanbul before praying at the historic Eyup Sultan mosque built after the 1453 conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans.
"As long as I am alive, I will continue our struggle to sustain a more advanced democracy," said Erdogan before heading to Ankara where he is expected to give a full victory speech.
Erdogan has said he plans to revamp the post to give the presidency greater executive powers, which could see Turkey shift towards a system more like that of France if his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) succeeds in changing the constitution.
But Erdogan's opponents accuse him of undermining the secular legacy of Turkey's founding father Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who established a strict separation between religion and politics when he forged the new state from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire.
"A ballot paper with only one name does not represent the democracy, it does not suit Turkey," said Ihsanoglu, 70, as he cast his ballot in Istanbul.
He complained that the campaign had been "unfair, disproportionate", nonetheless predicting that the votes of the "silent masses" would help him to victory.
Erdogan ran a lavish three-month campaign that swamped those of his rivals, his face glaring down at pedestrians in Istanbul from gigantic billboards at almost every street corner.
The campaign of Ihsanoglu -- a bookish former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) whose candidacy was backed by the two main opposition parties -- was modest by comparison.
While many secular Turks detest Erdogan, he can still count on a huge base of support from religiously conservative middle-income voters, particularly in central Turkey and poorer districts of Istanbul, who have prospered under his rule.
"He has helped feed the poor and reached out to a larger section of our society," Zahide, 52, a retired nurse, after voting in Istanbul for Erdogan.
But Ozlem, 24, a university student, said she voted for Ihsanoglu. "Our country is at a turning point. It's either democracy or dictatorship. Everyone should come to their senses."
Regional breakdowns of the results showed a clear geographical polarisation of the country, with Ihsanoglu taking the strongly secular western coast, Demirtas the Kurdish southeast but Erdogan the Black Sea coast, Istanbul and the entire heart of the country.
The third candidate Demirtas, 41, from Turkey's Kurdish minority, hoped to attract votes not just from Kurds but also secular Turks with a left-wing, pro-gay and pro-women's rights message.
But even though his charisma, flashing grin and fondness for white shirts with rolled-up sleeves have earned him the moniker "the Kurdish Obama" in some quarters, he failed to make the stunning breakthrough some expected.
Erdogan endured the toughest year of his rule in 2013, shaken by deadly mass protests sparked by plans to build a shopping mall on Gezi Park in Istanbul that grew into a general cry of anger by secular Turks who felt ignored by the AKP.
Later in the year, stunning corruption allegations emerged against the premier and his inner circle, including his son Bilal, based on bugged conversations that enthralled the country like a soap opera.
The future of outgoing president Abdullah Gul, a co-founder of the AKP who appears to have distanced himself from Erdogan, is unclear. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is tipped as a possible choice to be premier.
Recalling that he was the last Turkish president to be elected by parliament, Gul said afer voting that he wished Turkey proceeds "on its path by keeping its democracy and law stronger and consolidating its economy".
Analysts warned that Erdogan may face stiff resistance when he seeks to change the constitution and gain extra powers for the presidency.
"Winning the presidency has never been the main challenge for Erdogan. The main challenge ... is what happens next," said Ziya Meral, a researcher on Turkey at University of Cambridge and Foreign Policy Centre in London.