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Turkish President Erdogan seals election victory to enter third decade in power


Turkish President and Justice and Development (AK) Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during his party group’s meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TGNA) in Ankara, May 18, 2022.

Adam Altan | AFP | Getty Images

Turkish media reported on Sunday that Recep Tayyip Erdogan had won Turkey’s 2023 presidential election, extending his reign into his third decade in power after facing the tightest race of his career.

Turkish public broadcaster TRT has called the presidential election of incumbent President Erdogan.

The state news agency Anadolu’s vote tally shows that Erdogan’s main opposition candidate Kemal Kılıcdaroglu won 52.11% to 47.89% with 98.52% of the votes counted.

Official numbers have been slower than media numbers, and although they show Erdogan in the lead, he has not been officially announced as the winner.

Analysts saw victory for Erdogan, 69, as almost in the bag after the first vote on May 14, which saw him exit five percentage points ahead of his rival, in a giant blow to the opposition.

Kilicdaroglu and his CHP party had promised change, economic improvement, rescuing democratic norms and closer ties to the West – which many hoped would lead them to victory, especially as years of economic policies of Erdogan have contributed to creating a cost of living crisis in Turkey. But in the end, it wasn’t enough.

The AK Party leader’s popularity remains alive and well, even despite public anger over the government’s slow response to a series of devastating earthquakes in February that killed more than 50,000 people .

Many in Turkey – and the wider Muslim world – see Erdogan as a protector of loyal Muslims who elevates Turkey globally and pushes back against the West, despite being a longtime Western ally.

By contrast, Kilicdaroglu’s party, the CHP, is striving to adopt the fiercely secular model of leadership first established by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of the modern Turkish state. It is known to be historically more hostile to devout Muslims, who form a huge part of the Turkish electorate, although the CHP under Kilicdaroglu has softened its stance and has even been joined by former members of the Islamist party.

Big decisions ahead

Erdogan has no shortage of work ahead of him – and his decisions will continue to have repercussions far beyond Turkey’s borders. The country of 85 million has NATO’s second largest army, is home to 50 US nuclear warheads, hosts 4 million refugees and has played a key role in Russian-Ukrainian mediation. Western allies will also wait to see if Erdogan finally agrees to accept Sweden’s application to join NATO.

Erdogan was Turkey’s prime minister from 2003 to 2014 and president from 2014. He rose to prominence as mayor of Istanbul in the 1990s and was celebrated in the first decade of the new millennium for transforming Turkish economy into an emerging market power.

Can Gulf Money Save Turkey's Economy?

The past few years, however, have been far less rosy for the conservative religious leader, whose own economic policies have contributed to inflation exceeding 80% in 2022 and Turkey’s currency, the readlosing some 77% of its value against the dollar over the past five years.

International and domestic voices are also sounding the alarm that Turkey’s democracy under Erdogan looks less democratic by the day.

Frequent arrests of journalists, forced closures of many independent media outlets and heavy repression of past protest movements – as well as a 2017 constitutional referendum that significantly expanded Erdogan’s presidential powers – signal what many see as a shift towards autocracy.

Turkish president rejects criticism. But with a new term in office and previous reforms consolidating presidential power, very little stands in the way of a stronger-than-ever Erdogan.

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