By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a new five-year term and will enjoy sweeping new powers after his victory in an election that international monitors said lacked “equal” conditions and his closest challenger said turned Turkey into “a one-man regime.”
With just over 99 percent of the vote counted, the national electoral board declared Erdogan the winner early on June 25 but did not give exact numbers, saying the remaining votes would not affect the result. The board said the final results would be available to the public in 10 or 11 days.
State news agency Anadolu put Erdogan at 52.5 percent and his closest rival, Muharrem Ince, at 30.6 percent.
Erdogan’s triumph was quickly welcomed by Russian President Vladimir Putin and several other authoritarian leaders, but was met with skepticism by the West, with the European Union, the United States, and other Western countries calling on Turkey to strengthen democracy following an election that was criticized by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)’s vote monitoring arm, known by the acronym ODIHR.
Ignacio Sanchez Amor, the head of the ODIHR’s short-term observer mission for the elections, said opposition parties were denied equal conditions for campaigning and Erdogan and his ruling party enjoyed undue advantages, including in the media.
“The restrictions we have seen on fundamental freedoms have had an impact on these elections. I hope that Turkey lifts these restrictions as soon as possible,” Amor said at a news conference in Ankara on June 25.
Observers praised the high turnout of around 87 percent, saying it proved the Turkish voters’ commitment to democracy.
However, “fear and pressure” on candidates and their supporters “raised questions about their ability to campaign in a free and fair atmosphere,” said Audrey Glover, head of ODIHR long-term mission.
Voters had a “genuine choice” in these elections, Glover said, but media coverage that was skewed in favor of the ruling party and Erdogan “prevented them from making an informed choice.”
Under constitutional amendments approved after a controversial 2017 referendum, Turkey is making a transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.
The shift will give Erdogan more power in his next term, abolishing the prime minister’s post, and eliminating many of the checks and balances designed to help parliament protect against the misuse of presidential powers.
Ince, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), conceded defeat in a news conference in Ankara, but railed against the vote, which he said was unfair and would have serious consequences for Turkey’s democracy.
“I recognize the election results,” Ince said, but added, “Turkey has broken its connection with the 143 years of parliamentary system. We have switched literally to a one-man regime.”
In parliamentary elections held simultaneously with the presidential poll, Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) won 42.5 percent, falling short of a parliamentary majority. But a better-than-expected performance by its nationalist ally, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), should allow the party to control the legislature, expanded from 550 to 600 seats.
Ince’s opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had 23 percent. The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) had 11 percent, which would put it above the 10 percent needed to enter parliament. The opposition nationalist Iyi (Good) party had 10 percent, according to state media.
Turnout was 87 percent for both the presidential and parliamentary contests, officials said.
“The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty,” the 64-year-old Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul.
“The message is clear,” he said. “With turnout of nearly 90 percent, Turkey has taught the whole world a democracy lesson.”
Amid signs of a weakening economy, Erdogan in April declared that presidential and parliamentary elections would be held on June 24, 17 months earlier than planned.
“Turkey is staging a democratic revolution,” Erdogan told reporters in the polling station in Istanbul where he voted on June 24. “With the presidential system, Turkey is seriously raising the bar, rising above the level of contemporary civilizations.”
After being declared the winner, Erdogan on June 25 said he would act more decisively against terrorist organizations and would liberate more territory in Syria to allow “our guests” to go home safely, referring to the thousands of Syrian refugees who have fled the bloody seven-year civil war in the Middle East country.
Polls had suggested the possibility that the presidential vote could head into a second-round runoff on July 8 and that the AKP could lose its parliamentary majority after 16 years.
Ince, the CHP leader, was backed by the newly formed National Alliance, which along with secular social democrats, includes center-right conservatives, nationalist liberal conservatives, and conservative Islamists.
National Alliance parliamentary candidates had vowed that if they secured majority control of the legislature, they would try to roll back the Erdogan-backed constitutional amendments narrowly approved in the 2017 referendum.
Russian President Vladimir Putin personally congratulated Erdogan in a telephone call. Earlier, a Kremlin statement saying the result demonstrated his “great political authority” and mass support, and would “strengthen the country’s position on the international arena.”
Other authoritarian leaders — including Iranian President Hassan Rohani, Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbaev, Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro, and Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir — congratulated Erdogan.
While NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg congratulated Erdogan, he stressed that the alliance “was based on some core values: democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty.”
“We’re working to set up a call between the [U.S.] president and the president of Turkey to reaffirm our strong bond,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters. “We encourage Turkey to take steps to strengthen democracy and continue progress toward resolving issues in the bilateral relationship.”
Congratulating Erdogan on his election victory, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said her country wants “to be the partner of a stable and diverse Turkey, where democratic participation and protection of the rule of law are strengthened.”
In a joint statement, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and Johannes Hahn, commissioner for European neighborhood policy and enlargement negotiations, urged Turkey to address “key shortcomings regarding the rule of law and fundamental rights, noting that the new presidential system has “far reaching implications for Turkish democracy.”
Separately, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said Erdogan was now “all-powerful” and that he “has everything in his hands.” He added that it depended on Erdogan now to improve Turkey’s relations with the EU and “get on another track with Europe.”
Turkey began EU membership talks in 2005, but the discussions have been put on ice in recent years.
Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for more than 15 years, first as prime minister and since 2014 as president. He remains popular with vast segments of the population.
He founded the AKP after the previous Islamic party led by his mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, was banned.
He survived a coup attempt led by a renegade army faction on July 15, 2016, leading to a crackdown on opponents that has been criticized by many in the West.
In Germany, Sevim Dagdelen, chairwoman of the German-Turkish parliamentary group and an ethnic Kurd, told the dpa news agency that the elections were “neither free nor fair.”
“Erdogan has reached his goal of an authoritarian presidential system through manipulation that began long before election day,” said Dagdelen, a member of left-wing Die Linke party in Germany, which has a large ethnic Turkish and Kurdish population.
After 80 percent of ballots from Turks eligible to vote in Germany were counted, Erdogan had won 65.7 percent of them, officials said.