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Turkey’s Erdoğan wins again

Turkey’s Erdoğan wins again

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Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will begin another five years as Turkey’s president after winning a divisive election that at one point seemed to threaten his hold on power.

The 69-year-old, who has dominated his country’s politics for two decades, was set to win the runoff vote by 52 percent to 48 percent, with more than 99 percent of ballot boxes counted, beating opposition candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, according to preliminary official results from Turkey’s Supreme Election Council.

Erdoğan declared victory in front of his residence in Istanbul, singing his campaign song before his speech. “I thank our nation, which gave us the responsibility of governing again for the next five years,” he said. 

“We have opened the door of Turkey’s century without compromising our democracy, development and our objectives,” he added.

The triumphant president continued his campaign tactic of targeting LGBTQ+ people. “Can LGBT infiltrate AK Party or other members of the People’s Alliance [the broader coalition backing Erdoğan]? Family is sacred to us,” he said.

Erdoğan’s supporters celebrated in the streets of Turkey’s major cities and towns. Tens of thousands gathered in Ankara at the palace later in the night to hear him speak again.

Turkey’s place as a key NATO power at the junction of Europe and the Middle East has made the election one of the most closely watched political contests in the world this year. With Erdoğan embarking on another five-year term, he is in a powerful position to influence not only the future direction of democracy in the 85 million strong country but also to shape politics in the region and beyond.

Turkey’s pivotal role in negotiating the Black Sea grain deal, which allowed Ukraine to resume shipping wheat to a hungry world, highlights Erdoğan’s impact on international affairs. He is rare among NATO leaders in maintaining good relations with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, even after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine.

On Sunday night, Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron were among those to congratulate Erdoğan on his victory. Putin told Erdoğan the outcome was “a natural result of your selfless work” and “clear evidence” that voters backed Turkey’s “independent foreign policy.” U.S. President Joe Biden was also quick to offer his congratulations. “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges,” Biden tweeted.

Bitter campaign

Erdoğan’s victory followed a bitter and closely fought campaign in which he accused his rival of being linked to terrorism and argued that the country faced chaos if the six-party opposition alliance came to power.

He has ruled Turkey since 2003, first as prime minister and then as president, and the election has been widely seen as a defining moment for the country. 

Erdoğan’s supporters say he has made the country stronger, but his critics argue that his authoritarian approach to power is fatally undermining Turkey’s democracy.

Kılıçdaroğlu said it had been “the most unfair election process in years” in his own post-election speech.

“All the resources of the state have been mobilized for one political party. They have been spread at the feet of one man,” he said. The opposition candidate gave no indication that he was planning to resign, adding that the struggle would go on. 

Erdogan taunted his rival, saying: “Bye, bye, bye Kemal.”

By contrast with earlier elections in which the president and his Islamist-oriented AK party easily beat their secular rivals, Erdoğan headed into this May’s contest behind in the polls. But he defied the pollsters on May 14, falling just short of an outright majority in the first round, a result that triggered Sunday’s runoff vote.

His reelection campaign had to contend with economic problems such as painfully high inflation — currently 43 percent — and a weak currency, as well as the legacy of February’s devastating earthquake. At least 50,000 died in the disaster and the government was criticized for poor construction standards and its own slow response.

But Erdoğan’s first round performance on May 14 put him five percentage points ahead of Kılıçdaroğlu and just a few hundred thousand votes short of an absolute majority.

The opposition candidate then shifted to a more nationalist stance, promising to deport millions of Syrians and Afghans, but that move proved ultimately unsuccessful. Sinan Oğan, the nationalist candidate who won 5 percent in the first round then endorsed Erdoğan, not Kılıçdaroğlu.

Political analysts say Erdoğan’s victory highlights the polarization in Turkish society, particularly divisions between Islamists and secularists. While much of Turkey’s coastline, the big cities and the largely Kurdish southeast voted for Kılıçdaroğlu, the heartlands strongly favored Erdoğan.

Opposition supporters also argue that the election reflected Erdoğan’s grip on power, including his near-total influence on the country’s media, which is largely controlled by groups friendly toward the governing party.

After Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy was backed by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, Erdoğan accused his rival of being in league with Kurdish terrorists, showing a doctored video in the closing days of the campaign to make his case.

This article has been updated with latest results and reaction.

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