ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won re-election on Sunday, extending his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade as the country reels from high inflation and the aftermath of an earthquake of land that razed entire towns.
A third term gives Erdogan, a polarizing populist, an even stronger hand domestically and internationally, and the election results will have implications far beyond the capital of Ankara. Turkey is located at the crossroads of Europe and Asia and plays a key role within NATO.
With more than 99% of ballots open, unofficial results from competing news agencies showed Erdogan with 52% of the vote, compared to 48% for his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The head of Turkey’s electoral council confirmed the victory, saying that even after counting the outstanding votes, the result was another term for Erdogan.
In two speeches, one in Istanbul and the other in Ankara, Erdogan thanked the nation for handing him the presidency for another five years.
“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 in his first comments after the results were released.
He ridiculed his challenger for his loss, saying “goodbye, Kemal”, as the fans booed. He said the divisions in the election were now over, but continued to lash out at his opponent as well as the pro-Kurdish party’s former co-leader who has been jailed for years for links suspected with terrorism.
“The only winner today is Turkey,” Erdogan told hundreds of thousands of people gathered outside the presidential palace in Ankara, promising to work hard for Turkey’s second century, which he calls the “century Turkish”. The country celebrates its centenary this year.
Kilicdaroglu campaigned on a promise to reverse Erdogan’s democratic backsliding, restore the economy by returning to more conventional policies and improve ties with the West. He 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 will “to change an authoritarian government despite all the pressure”, he said.
Erdogan supporters 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.
Erdogan’s government vetoed Sweden’s bid for NATO membership and purchased Russian missile defense systems, prompting the United States to oust Turkey from a proposed US-led fighter jet. But Turkey also helped broker a crucial deal that enabled Ukrainian grain shipments and averted 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 that Erdogan, who has spoken of introducing a new constitution, would likely push even harder for it to lock in the changes overseen by his conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
Erdogan, who has ruled Turkey for 20 years, narrowly missed victory in the first round of the May 14 election. It was the first time he had failed to win an election, but he made up for it on Sunday.
Congratulations poured in from world leaders including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose countries are at war with Ukraine.
Putin said Erdogan’s victory was “clear proof” that the Turkish people support his efforts to “strengthen state sovereignty and pursue an independent foreign policy”.
Zelenskyy said he was counting on building the partnership between the two countries and strengthening cooperation “for the security and stability of Europe”.
US President Joe Biden said he looked forward to “continuing to work together as NATO allies on bilateral issues and common global challenges”.
The two candidates offered very different visions of the country’s future and its recent past.
Critics blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for soaring inflation that has fueled a cost of living crisis. Many also blamed his government for responding slowly to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey.
In his victory speech, Erdogan said rebuilding quake-hit towns would be his priority, and he said one million Syrian refugees would return to Turkish-held “safe areas” in Syria as part of 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 for increasing the country’s influence in world politics.
In Ankara, Erdogan’s voter Hacer Yalcin said Turkey’s future was great. “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 that allowed the country to begin talks to join the European Union and 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.
Erdogan’s rival was a mild-mannered former civil servant who had led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010.
In a frantic effort to reach out to nationalist voters in the run-off, Kilicdaroglu pledged to return refugees and ruled out peace talks with Kurdish militants if elected.
In Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir, 37-year-old steelworker Ahmet Koyun said everyone should accept the results.
“It is sad on behalf of our people that a government with such corruption, such filth, has returned to power. Mr. Kemal would have been great for our country, at least for a change of scenery,” he said.
Sunday also marked the 10th anniversary of the start of mass anti-government protests that erupted over plans to uproot trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The protests have become one of the most serious challenges for Erdogan’s government.
Erdogan’s response to the protests, in which eight people were convicted, was a harbinger of a crackdown on civil society and freedom of expression.
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, he repeated those themes, saying LGBTQ people cannot “infiltrate” his ruling party or nationalist allies.
Bilginsoy reported from Istanbul. Bela Szandelszky in Ankara, Türkiye; Mucahit Ceylan in Diyarbakir, Türkiye; and Cinar Kiper in Bodrum, Turkey, contributed to this report.