Turkey’s Erdogan wins election test of his 20-year rule

  • Erdogan is entering his third decade in power
  • Putin congratulated his ‘dear friend’
  • The vote shows a polarized nation after a divisive campaign

ISTANBUL, May 28 (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan won a mandate in Sunday’s election to extend his two-decade rule and pursue increasingly authoritarian policies that have polarized Turkey and strengthened its position as a regional military power.

His rival, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, called it “the most unfair election in years” but did not dispute the result.

Official results showed Kilikdaroglu with 47.9% of the vote to Erdogan’s 52.1%, pointing to a deeply divided nation.

The election was seen as a backlash for Turkey as the opposition believes there is a strong chance of ousting Erdogan and reversing his policies after his popularity has been damaged by the cost-of-living crisis.

Instead, the victory reinforced his invincible image after already reshaping domestic, economic, defense and foreign policy in the NATO member state of 85 million people.

The prospect of his five more years in power is a major blow to opponents who say he undermines democracy because he has amassed too much power — something he denies.

Kilicdaroglu’s defeat will be mourned by Turkey’s NATO allies. Erdoğan’s ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin are alarmed.

“The only winner today is Turkey,” Erdogan, 69, told jubilant supporters from a bus in Istanbul. And I am thankful to each and every one of our people for giving us the responsibility of ruling the country for five years, he said.

Erdogan’s victory extends his tenure as the longest-serving leader since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire a century ago – a politically powerful anniversary to be celebrated with Erdogan in charge in October.

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Erdogan, head of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, appealed to voters with nationalist and conservative rhetoric during a divisive campaign that diverted attention from deeper economic problems.

In his victory speech, he again attacked the opposition, calling them pro-LGBT.

Pledging to set the country on a more democratic and inclusive path, Klikdaroglu said the vote showed the will of the people to replace an authoritarian government. “All the mechanisms of government were laid at the feet of one man,” he said.

‘Sadness and Disappointment’

Erdogan supporters gathered outside his Istanbul residence chanting Allahu Akbar, or God is great.

“I expect everything to turn out better,” said Nisa, 28, wearing a headband with Erdogan’s name on it.

Another Erdogan supporter said Turkey would strengthen with him in office for another five years.

There are problems, problems in every country around the world, in European countries … with strong leadership we will solve Turkey’s problems as well,” said a supporter who gave his name as Mert, 39, celebrating his name. son

Bugra Oztug, 24, who voted for Kilicdaroglu, blamed the opposition for failing to change. “I feel sad and disappointed, but I’m not hopeless. I still think there are people who can see the facts and the truth,” Oztug said.

Erdogan’s performance has wrong-footed opponents who thought voters would punish him for the state’s initially slow response to the devastating earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people in February.

But in the first round of polls on May 14, which included parliamentary elections, his AK Party came out on top in 10 of the 11 provinces affected by the earthquakes, helping it secure a parliamentary majority along with its allies.

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Fear of freedom

French President Emmanuel Macron offered congratulations, saying France and Turkey have “great challenges to face together”.

Leaders of Iran, Israel and the Saudi king were among the leaders to greet him in the Middle East, where Erdogan has emphasized Turkish influence, sometimes with military force. Erdogan, who has been at odds with many governments in the region for years, has taken a more conciliatory stance in recent years.

Emre Erdogan, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Bilgi University, attributed Erdogan’s success to his supporters’ faith in “his ability to solve problems, even though he created many of them.”

Erdogan has also retained the support of conservative voters who have long felt marginalized. “This era will be characterized by a decline in political and civil rights, polarization and cultural clashes between two political tribes,” he said.

Despite years of economic turmoil, Erdogan has been blamed by critics for his unorthodox economic policies, which the opposition has vowed to reverse.

Uncertainty about what an Erdogan victory would mean for economic policy pushed the lira to record lows last week.

Reuters reported last week that there was disagreement within Erdogan’s government over whether to stick to what it says is a sustainable economic plan or abandon it.

Kilicdaroglu, after being sidelined for the past decade, promised to restore governance, restore human rights and restore freedom to the courts and central bank.

Additional reporting by Ali Kukukogmen, Eski Ergoyun, Burku Karakas, Darren Butler and Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Eze Doksabe and Husein Hayatchever in Ankara Writing by Alexandra Hudson and Tom Perry Editing by Frances Kerry and Giles Elgood.

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