Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set for five years as president of Turkey after winning a controversial election that at one point appeared to threaten his grip on power.
The 69-year-old, who dominated his country’s politics for two decades, was on course to win the second round by 52% to 48%, with more than 98% of the ballot boxes counted, beating the presidential candidate. opposition Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, according to the country’s two main news agencies.
In the first round of voting on May 14, the president also came out on top, defying the polls, but fell short of an outright majority, leading the election to a runoff.
Turkey’s Supreme Electoral Council – the country’s top electoral authority – said that with 75% of votes counted, Erdoğan was in the lead with 53% while Kılıçdaroğlu got 47%.
Erdoğan declared victory outside his residence in Istanbul, singing his campaign song before his speech. “I thank our nation, which gave us the responsibility to govern again for the next five years,” he said.
“We have opened the door to Turkey’s century without compromising our democracy, our development and our goals,” he added.
Erdoğan also called on his supporters to retake Istanbul in the next local elections in 2024. His AK party lost the city to the opposition in 2019.
The triumphant president continued his campaign tactic of targeting LGBTQ+ people. “Can LGBT people infiltrate the AK party or other members of the People’s Alliance [the broader coalition backing Erdoğan]? Family is sacred to us,” he said.
The government of Qatar and Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister, congratulated Erdoğan via Twitter.
Erdoğan’s victory follows a campaign in which he accused his rival of being linked to terrorism and argued that the country would face 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 was widely seen as a defining moment for the country.
Erdoğan’s supporters say he has made the country stronger, but his critics say his authoritarian approach to power fatally undermines Turkish democracy.
Unlike previous elections in which the president and his Islamist-leaning AK party easily beat secular rivals, Erdoğan headed into May’s contest late in the polls.
His re-election campaign has had to deal with economic problems such as painfully high inflation – currently at 43% – and a weak currency, as well as the legacy of the devastating February earthquake. At least 50,000 people died in the disaster and the government has been criticized for its poor building standards and its own slowness.
But Erdoğan’s performance in the first round on May 14 put him five percentage points ahead of Kılıçdaroğlu and just a few hundred thousand votes from an absolute majority.
The opposition candidate then took a more nationalist stance, promising to deport millions of Syrians and Afghans, but that move ultimately proved fruitless. Sinan Oğan, the nationalist candidate who won 5% in the first round, then supported Erdoğan, not Kılıçdaroğlu.
Political analysts say Erdoğan’s victory highlights the polarization of Turkish society, especially divisions between Islamists and secularists. While much of the Turkish coastline, major cities, and predominantly Kurdish southeast voted for Kılıçdaroğlu, the heartland strongly favored Erdoğan.
Opposition supporters also argue that the election reflected Erdoğan’s grip on power, including his near total influence over the country’s media, which is largely controlled by groups friendly to the ruling party.
After Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy was backed by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, Erdoğan accused his rival of being in cahoots with Kurdish terrorists, showing doctored video in the final days of the campaign to make his point of sight.
This article has been updated to include Erdoğan’s reaction.