By Dorian Jones
Incumbent Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won reelection in Sunday’s runoff election.
Erdogan spoke to supporters after unofficial preliminary results gave him 52% of the vote, compared with 48% for his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
“I thank each member of our nation for entrusting me with the responsibility to govern this country once again for the upcoming five years,” said Erdogan, who had been seeking a third decade in power. “I would like to thank all our citizens who showed their will for the future, both for themselves and their children, by casting their votes in the elections.”
Challenger Kilicdaroglu, reacting to the reported results, blamed an unfair election.
“We experienced the most unfair election in recent years,” he said. “All the means of the state were mobilized for a political party. All possibilities were laid under one man’s feet.”
Kilicdaroglu also thanked the more than 25 million who voted for him.
Erdogan was seen as the front-runner heading into Sunday’s vote after narrowly missing victory in the first round.
Both Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu said at last-minute rallies Saturday that turnout would be key to the outcome of the presidential poll.
Critics accused Erdogan of undermining democracy, locking up critics and centralizing power. Kilicdaroglu had pledged to return Turkey to parliamentary democracy and to release prominent political prisoners.
Bugra, a voter who only wanted to be identified by his first name, said democracy itself is on the ballot.
“People’s rule, the republic, these are the values we have come here to defend. For 20 years, this government has only been trying to lead us to a legitimate monarchy, trying to make the parliament dysfunctional,” he said.
But Erdogan played the nationalist card, accusing his challenger of being soft on terrorism, and insisting that the country needs strong leadership to stand up to Turkey’s Western allies and navigate the dangerous challenges posed by a neighborhood that includes Syria and Ukraine.
It is a stance that resonated with another voter, Yunus Koz.
“It is very important. I am a Muslim, I am Turkish, I love this homeland very much, and I want my homeland to remain in the hands of Tayyip Erdogan. The other side [Kilicdaroglu], wants it to be in the hands of imperialist powers,” Koz said.
Erdogan was the top vote-getter in the first round, but Kilicdaroglu remained competitive with his pivot toward hard-line nationalist policies, including calling for the return of millions of Syrian refugees.
Among those congratulating Erdogan after his election win were Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and UAE President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan. Among Western organizations and leaders to congratulate him were the European Union and NATO, U.S. President Joe Biden French President Emmanuel Macron, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who referred to Erdogan as his “dear friend,” claiming the Turkish people appreciate Erdogan’s independent foreign policy.
Much to the concerns of Turkey’s traditional Western allies, Erdogan has developed a close relationship with Putin despite Russia’s Ukraine invasion. A relationship Erdogan vowed to deepen during his election campaign.