ANKARA (AFP) - Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is to stand for the presidency in August elections, his party announced Tuesday, paving the way for him to extend his dominance of the country's politics for at least another five years.
"The candidate for the 12th president (of modern Turkey) is our prime minister, head of our party and Istanbul lawmaker Recep Tayyip Erdogan," said Mehmet Ali Sahin, deputy leader of Erdogan's ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
The announcement - which put an end to months of speculation - was made at a glitzy ceremony at Ankara's Chamber of Commerce attended by some 4,000 AKP party members as well as the premier and his wife Emine.
If he wins the elections, Mr Erdogan, 60, would serve as president until 2019, with the possibility of a second mandate, making him Turkey's longest serving leader since the founder of the modern Turkish republic Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
However Mr Erdogan's move to switch from the premier's office to the Cankaya presidential palace in Ankara comes at the most turbulent moment in his over decade long domination of Turkey.
The government was shaken by mass protests in 2013, a torrent of corruption allegations allegedly disseminated by a Pennsylvania-based former ally of Erdogan and most recently its sometimes clumsy response to the Soma mine disaster that killed 301.
Still hailed by supporters for presiding over an economic transformation of Turkey, Mr Erdogan is now accused by critics of seeking to run the country in the same way as a long-reigning Ottoman autocrat.
"Everything is being redesigned in a way towards a kind of one-man, one-party rule after the prime minister is elected president," commentator Mehmet Yilmaz wrote in the mass circulation Hurriyet daily. "Turkey is being dragged towards one-man rule at full speed".
His candidacy means Mr Erdogan's onetime close ally and co-founder of the Islamic-rooted AKP, incumbent president Abdullah Gul will be stepping aside with his political future uncertain.
Mr Erdogan has said that the new president will have more capacities than the largely ceremonial role performed by previous incumbents, saying the head of state should be someone "who sweats, runs and works hard".
Despite his recent troubles, Mr Erdogan still commands fervent support across the country especially from rural populations and religiously conservative small business owners who prospered under his rule. The AKP scored a convincing victory in March local elections.
Mr Erdogan is widely expected to win the presidential elections, possibly outright in the first round without the need for a second round scheduled for August 24.
The elections are the first time the Turkish people directly elect the president, who was previously chosen by parliament.
"Today we are preparing for an election in which president will be elected by the public," said Sahin. "We, the AKP, have passed through a long process to select a candidate and held consultations with almost every circle." To the surprise of many, the two main secular opposition parties fielded a devout intellectual - the former head of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu - as a joint candidate to challenge the pious Mr Erdogan.
But while Mr Ihsanoglu will not alienate religious voters, the bespectacled and softly spoken academic has none of the charisma of the combative Erdogan.
Meanwhile the main pro-Kurdish party on Monday announced its candidate would be Selahattin Demirtas, an energetic and relatively dynamic figure who nonetheless is expected to struggle to break into double figures.