ISTANBUL, Turkey — Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan claimed victory in a historic runoff, the toughest challenge of his political career. Victory, if confirmed, would cement his third term in office and signify the endurance of his one-man executive power, despite growing grievances against him in Turkey, including his unorthodox economic policies, poor response to a devastating earthquake and the reduction of democratic freedoms.
While the country’s election commission has yet to declare an official winner – nor has state media – the Associated Press reported that unofficial results from competing news outlets showed Erdogan with around 52% of the vote. , with approximately 99% of ballot boxes open. .
The first round of voting two weeks ago did not produce a clear winner for the first time in the history of the Turkish Republic. But President Erdogan has edged his main challenger, Kilicdaroglu, by 4.5 percentage points, giving him an edge ahead of Sunday’s vote.
The two men offered radically different visions of Turkey and its future. Erdogan, 69, has waged a divisive campaign in which he portrayed himself as the leader who would make Turkey a global power, pushing his religious nationalist rhetoric and accusing his opponent of being linked to terrorists and a pawn of western nations.
Erdogan’s supporters see him as a modernizer, who has elevated Turkey’s presence on the world stage and advanced the country’s infrastructure and military capacity, while strengthening religious Turks who have been suppressed when secular leaders were in power decades ago. His critics see him as an autocrat who allowed government corruption to thrive, leading to shoddy and unregulated construction that made a devastating February earthquake even deadlier when hundreds of thousands of buildings collapsed. collapsed, killing more than 50,000 people.
Kilicdaroglu, 74, was backed by a coalition of parties ranging from secularists, Islamists and nationalists, and put up the strongest opposition Erdogan and his ruling party have seen in years. He has promised to restore Turkey’s system of government to the original parliamentary democracy, instead of the executive presidency it became after a constitutional referendum in 2017.
Kilicdaroglu also promised to end corruption, fix the economy and bring back the independence of the judiciary. But Kilicdaroglu also ran on nationalist and anti-immigrant rhetoric. He outlined his plans to secure Turkey’s borders and return to Syria nearly 4 million Syrians who sought refuge in Turkey after the civil war.
Attendance was down
In the end, participation appeared lower on Sunday than in the first round which had seen a strong participation of nearly 89%. The opposition, which had high hopes of beating Erdogan in the first round, suffered a huge loss in morale and was unable to fully recover in the following two weeks.
Despite nearly half of Turkey’s population feeling tired of Erdogan’s long term in power and a crippled economy with an unstable currency and rising cost of living, Kilicdaroglu struggled to convince voters who were on the fence that he would do a better job than Erdogan, according to Vahap Coskun, a political scientist and law professor at Dicle University in Diyarbakir, Turkey.
“Kilicdaroglu’s party has unresolved historical baggage with many voters, and it has struggled to portray itself as an alternative to Erdogan, who is seen as a far more charismatic leader,” Coskun said.
But the race was also seen as far from fair. Erdogan has almost total control of Turkish broadcast media. And while he made frequent and lengthy television appearances, Kilicdaroglu had to rely on social media and YouTube to get his message across. Erdogan has also taken advantage of government resources to distribute benefits to millions of citizens and has raised the minimum wage several times over the past year.
The result has implications for the United States
A victory for Erdogan has implications beyond Turkey, which is a regional power, a member of NATO and a strategic but frustrating ally of the United States. Turkey, under Erdogan, has maintained close ties with Russia and refused to participate in Western sanctions, and has held back NATO expansion by refusing to ratify Sweden’s membership so far. He also expanded the reach of the Turkish military in northern Syria and brokered an agreement with the United Nations, between Ukraine and Russia, to allow Ukrainian grain exports through the Russian blockade.
Experts told NPR they expect to see more of the same behavior from Erdogan in the next five years of his term.
“There is absolutely no reason to think that [Erdogan] would turn the tide or soften its approach,” said political analyst Selim Koru, on both domestic issues and international affairs.