ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has turned down a challenger who sought to reverse his authoritarian-leaning changes, getting five more years to oversee the country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia that plays a key role in NATO.
Erdogan prevailed by winning more than 52% of the vote in Sunday’s presidential run-off, which came two weeks after he failed to secure an outright victory in the first round. A majority of Turkish voters in the second round chose him over his challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu, showing their support for a man they see as a strong and proven leader.
Voters were torn between loyalty to Erdogan, who ruled for two decades, and hopes for the opposition candidate, who has promised to return to democratic norms, adopt more conventional economic policies and improve links with the West.
With his immediate political future secured, Erdogan must now tackle soaring inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis and rebuild in the wake of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000. people.
In two speeches – one in Istanbul and the other in Ankara – Erdogan thanked the nation for giving him the presidency again.
“We hope to be worthy of your trust, as we have been for 21 years,” he told supporters on a campaign bus outside his home in Istanbul.
He declared the divisions of the election over, but he continued to rail against his opponent.
“The only winner today is Turkey,” Erdogan said outside the presidential palace in Ankara, promising to work hard for Turkey’s second century, which he called the “Turkish century”. The country celebrates its centenary this year.
Supreme challenges lie ahead, starting with the economy which has been battered by what critics see as Erdogan’s unorthodox policies. He also has to deal with massive reconstruction efforts in 11 provinces affected by the February 6 earthquake that flattened entire towns.
Kilicdaroglu said the election was “the most unfair ever”, with all state resources mobilized for Erdogan.
“We will continue to be at the forefront of this struggle until real democracy comes to our country,” he said in Ankara. He thanked the more than 25 million people who voted for him and asked them to “stand up”.
The people have shown their willingness “to change an authoritarian government despite all the pressure”, Kilicdaroglu said.
Supporters of Erdogan, a divisive populist and masterful orator, took to the streets in celebration, waving Turkish or ruling party flags, honking car horns and chanting his name. Festive gunshots were heard in several districts of Istanbul.
His next term will certainly include more delicate maneuvers with the other NATO members on the future of the alliance and the war in Ukraine.
Leaders around the world sent their congratulations, highlighting Turkey’s and Erdogan’s expanded role in world politics.
Western politicians have said they are ready to continue working with Erdogan despite years of sometimes strained relations. Most imminently, Turkey holds the cards for Sweden’s hopes of joining NATO. The offer aims to strengthen the military alliance against Russia and is essential to the continuity of an agreement to allow Ukrainian grain shipments and avert a global food crisis.
“No one can despise our nation,” Erdogan said in Istanbul.
Steven A. Cook, senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said Turkey was likely to ‘move the goalpost’ on Sweden’s NATO membership as it solicits demands the United States.
He also said Erdogan, who has spoken of introducing a new constitution, is likely to push even harder to lock in the changes enacted by his conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
In his victory speech, Erdogan said rebuilding quake-hit towns would be his priority. He also said one million Syrian refugees would return to Turkish-held “safe areas” in Syria under a resettlement project with Qatar.
Erdogan retained the support of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for raising the profile of Islam in Turkey, which was based on secular principles, and increasing the country’s influence in international politics.
Erdogan’s rival was a mild-mannered former civil servant who had led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010. The opposition took months to unite behind Kilicdaroglu. He and his party have not won any election in which Erdogan ran.
In a frantic effort to educate nationalist voters in the run-off, Kilicdaroglu pledged to return the refugees and ruled out peace talks with Kurdish militants if elected.
Erdogan and pro-government media described Kilicdaroglu, who received support from the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with “terrorists” and supporting what they described as “deviant” LGBTQ rights.
In his victory speech, Erdogan repeated these themes, saying LGBTQ people cannot “infiltrate” his ruling party or nationalist allies.
In Ankara, Erdogan’s voter Hacer Yalcin said Turkey’s future was bright.
“Of course Erdogan is the winner… Who else? He did everything for us,” Yalcin said. “God bless us!
Erdogan, a 69-year-old Muslim, is expected to stay in power until 2028.
He transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role into a powerful office thanks to a narrowly won referendum in 2017 that ended Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014 and won the 2018 elections that ushered in the executive presidency.
The first half of Erdogan’s term included reforms allowing the country to start talks to join the European Union, as well as economic growth that lifted many people out of poverty.
But then he moved to suppress freedoms and the media and concentrated more power in his hands, especially after a failed coup attempt which Turkey says was orchestrated by the US-based Islamist cleric Fethullah Gulen. UNITED STATES. The cleric denies any involvement.
In the Kurdish-majority city of Diyarbakir, Ahmet Koyun, a 37-year-old steelworker, said: “It’s sad on behalf of our people that a government with such corruption, such taints, has returned to power. Mr. Kemal would have been great for our country, at least for a change of scenery.”
But he said everyone had to accept the results.
Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Bela Szandelszky in Ankara, Türkiye; Mucahit Ceylan in Diyarbakir, Türkiye; and Cinar Kiper in Bodrum, Turkey, contributed to this report.