Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is set for another five years as Turkey’s president after prevailing in divisive elections that at one point seemed to threaten his hold on power.
The 69-year-old, who has dominated his country’s politics for two decades, was on track to win the runoff vote by 52 percent to 48 percent, with more than 98 percent of ballot boxes counted, beating opposition candidate 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, taking the election to a runoff.
Turkey’s Supreme Election Council — the country’s highest electoral authority — said that, with 75 percent of the votes counted, Erdoğan was leading with 53 percent while Kılıçdaroğlu had received 47 percent.
Erdoğan declared victory in front of his residence in Istanbul, singing his campaign song before his speech. “I thank our nation, which gave us the responsibility of governing again for the next five years,” he said.
“We have opened the door of Turkey’s century without compromising our democracy, development and our objectives,” he added.
Erdoğan also called on his supporters to take Istanbul back in the next local elections in 2024. His AK Party lost the city to the opposition in the 2019.
The triumphant president continued his campaign tactic of targeting LGBTQ+ people. “Can LGBT infiltrate 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, Hungary’s 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 faced 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 has been widely seen as a defining moment for the country.
Erdoğan’s supporters say he has made the country stronger, but his critics argue that his authoritarian approach to power is fatally undermining Turkey’s democracy.
By contrast with earlier elections in which the president and his Islamist-oriented AK party easily beat their secular rivals, Erdoğan headed into this May’s contest behind in the polls.
His reelection campaign had to contend with economic problems such as painfully high inflation — currently 43 percent — and a weak currency, as well as the legacy of February’s devastating earthquake. At least 50,000 died in the disaster and the government was criticized for poor construction standards and its own slow response.
But Erdoğan’s first round performance on May 14 put him five percentage points ahead of Kılıçdaroğlu and just a few hundred thousand votes short of an absolute majority.
The opposition candidate then shifted to a more nationalist stance, promising to deport millions of Syrians and Afghans, but that move proved ultimately unsuccessful. Sinan Oğan, the nationalist candidate who won 5 percent in the first round then endorsed Erdoğan, not Kılıçdaroğlu.
Political analysts say Erdoğan’s victory highlights the polarization in Turkish society, particularly divisions between Islamists and secularists. While much of Turkey’s coastline, the big cities and the largely Kurdish southeast voted for Kılıçdaroğlu, the heartlands strongly favored Erdoğan.
Opposition supporters also argue that the election reflected Erdoğan’s grip on power, including his near-total influence on the country’s media, which is largely controlled by groups friendly toward the governing party.
After Kılıçdaroğlu’s candidacy was backed by Turkey’s main pro-Kurdish party, Erdoğan accused his rival of being in league with Kurdish terrorists, showing a doctored video in the closing days of the campaign to make his case.
This article has been updated to include reaction from Erdoğan.
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