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Turkey to select new PM end August

Monday - 8/11/2014, 12:30pm  ET

A cat sleeps next to a newspaper showing a photo of the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in central Istanbul, Turkey, on Monday, Aug. 11, 2014. Erdogan won Turkey's first direct presidential election Sunday, striking a conciliatory tone toward critics who fear he is bent on a power grab as he embarks on another five years at the country's helm. (AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti)

ELENA BECATOROS
Associated Press

ISTANBUL (AP) -- Turkey's governing party said Monday it will select a new prime minister at the end of August to replace Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who won the country's first direct presidential election in a historic vote.

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, will hold its party congress on Aug. 27 to select the new prime minister, who will also be the new party head. Turkey's constitution stipulates the president has to cut ties to any political party after being elected.

No specific name for the premiership was discussed during Monday's meeting, AKP spokesman Huseyin Celik said.

Erdogan won Sunday's election with 51.79 percent, according to election board figures released Monday. Challenger Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu got 38.44 percent and Selahattin Demirtas, a young Kurdish politician, got 9.76 percent. Turnout was 74.13 percent -- a relatively low figure for Turkey, where voting is mandatory.

A three-term prime minister who has dominated Turkish politics for more than a decade, Erdogan has been a divisive figure.

He was hammered by anti-government protests over a redevelopment project in Istanbul's Gezi Park last year, as well as over a mining disaster that killed 301 people in May.

He was also implicated in a corruption scandal, along with his son, earlier this year, but rejected the accusations as an attempted coup. The judicial officials involved have been reassigned to other posts or fired, and dozens of police have been arrested.

His critics accuse him of an increasingly autocratic style of governance and for allegedly trying to impose his religious and conservative mores on a nation built on secularism.

But his supporters revere him as a champion of the people who has steered Turkey to years of economic prosperity.

"Given the anti-government protests last summer in response to Erdogan's perceived authoritarian tendencies, political tension is likely to remain high as Erdogan seeks to extend the power of the presidency," said the Fitch international ratings agency.

Erdogan, 60, has vowed to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a powerful position.

Although a bid before the election to achieve this through a constitutional amendment failed, he has said he will activate the post's dormant powers -- a legacy of a 1980 coup -- including the ability to call parliament and summon Cabinet meetings.

"Erdogan got what he wanted," Murat Yetkin, Editor-in-Chief of the Hurriyet Daily News, wrote in an editorial Monday. "He wanted to consolidate all the executive power in his hands and now he has the chance and capacity for that."

Whoever replaces Erdogan as premier would hold the position until next year, when a general election is due. There is no official contender, although several names have emerged in the media, including outgoing President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu.

Gul, who co-founded the AKP with Erdogan, said on Monday he would "return to my party" after the end of his term, which expires on Aug. 28. But he refused to be drawn on whether that meant he would consider the premiership.

Although formerly very close, Gul and Erdogan have drifted apart in recent years, with Gul sometimes questioning the government's actions.

There has been speculation that the newly elected president would want to appoint a pliant prime minister so he could retain the true power himself -- a role Gul would be unlikely to perform.

In his victory speech Sunday night, Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone toward critics who fear he is bent on a power grab as he embarks on another five years at the country's helm.

"I will not be the president of only those who voted for me. I will be the president of 77 million," he vowed.

Not everyone was convinced.

"For me, he is not my president. I'm the people but he is not my president. First of all, the elections period wasn't fair," said Sener Gunduz, a surveyor in Istanbul.

International election monitors who visited a limited number of polling stations said Sunday's vote was "generally organized in a professional and efficient manner." But they said unbalanced campaign coverage strongly favored Erdogan.

"The prime minister's use of his official position, along with biased media coverage, gave him a distinct advantage over the other candidates," the OSCE said.

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Fraser reported from Ankara.

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