Turkiye’s Erdogan wins another term as president, extends rule into 3rd decade

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Ankara: Turkiye President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won reelection Sunday, extending his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade as the country reels from high inflation and the aftermath of an earthquake that levelled entire cities.

A third term gives Erdogan an even stronger hand domestically and internationally, and the election results will have implications far beyond the capital of Ankara. Turkiye stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it plays a key role in NATO.

With more than 99% of ballot boxes opened, unofficial results from competing news agencies showed Erdogan with 52% of the vote, compared with 48% for his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The head of Turkiye’s electoral board confirmed the victory, saying that even after accounting for outstanding votes, the result was another term for Erdogan.

In two speeches — one in Istanbul and one in Ankara — Erdogan thanked the nation for entrusting him with the presidency for five more 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 emerged.

He ridiculed his challenger for his loss, saying “bye bye bye, Kemal,” as supporters booed. While saying that the divisions of the elections were now over, he continued to rail against his opponent as well as the former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish party who has been imprisoned for years over alleged links to terrorism.

“The only winner today is Turkiye,” Erdogan said to hundreds of thousands gathered outside the presidential palace in Ankara, promising to work hard for Turkiye’s second century, which he calls the “Turkish century.” The country marks its centennial this year.

Kilicdaroglu campaigned on promises to reverse Erdogan’s democratic backsliding, to restore the economy by reverting to more conventional policies, and to improve ties with the West. He said the election was “the most unjust 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 “remain upright.”

The people have shown their will “to change an authoritarian government despite all the pressures,” he said.

Supporters of Erdogan, a divisive populist, took to the streets to celebrate, waving Turkish or ruling party flags, honking car horns and chanting his name. Celebratory gunfire was heard in several Istanbul neighbourhoods.

Erdogan’s government vetoed Sweden’s bid to join NATO and purchased Russian missile-defense systems, which prompted the United States to oust Turkiye from a U.S.-led fighter-jet project. But Turkiye also helped broker a crucial deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments and averted a global food crisis.

“No one can look down on our nation,” Erdogan said in Istanbul.

Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said Turkiye was likely to “move the goal post” on Sweden’s membership in NATO as it seeks demands from the United States.

He also said Erdogan, who has spoken about introducing a new constitution, was likely to make an even greater push for it in an effort to lock in changes overseen by his conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP.

Erdogan, who has been at Turkiye’s helm for 20 years, came just short of victory in the first round of elections on May 14. It was the first time he failed to win an election outright, but he made up for it Sunday.

His performance came despite crippling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake three months ago.

Congratulations poured in from world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, whose countries are at war in Ukraine.

In a tweet, U.S. President Joe Biden said he looked forward “to continuing to work together as NATO allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges.”

The two candidates offered sharply different visions of the country’s future, and its recent past.

Critics blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation that has fuelled a cost-of-living crisis. Many also faulted his government for a slow response to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkiye.

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