- By Paul Kirby & Eze Koxedeff
- in Ankara
Supporters of Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrated late into the night as Turkey’s longest-serving president secured another five years in power.
“85 million won the nation,” he told cheering crowds outside his grand palace on the edge of Ankara.
But his call for unity rang hollow as he mocked his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu – and took aim at the jailed Kurdish leader and the LGBT community.
The Leader of the Opposition did not openly concede victory.
Complaining about “the most unfair election in recent years”, Mr Kilicdaroglu said the president’s political party had mobilized all means of government against him.
Based on almost entirely unofficial results, President Erdogan finished with just 52% of the vote. Almost half of voters in this deeply polarized country do not support his authoritarian vision of Turkey.
In the end, Mr Kilicdaroglu was no match for the well-drilled Erdogan campaign, despite taking the president to a runoff for the first time since directly elected in 2014.
But he fell more than twenty million votes behind his rival’s first-round lead.
The president capitalized on his victory with an opening address to supporters on a bus in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, after dark to address a crowd of 320,000 people on a balcony from his palace.
“It’s not just us who won, Turkey won,” he declared, calling it one of the most important elections in Turkish history.
He mocked his opponent’s defeat with the words “bye, bye, Kemal” – a phrase picked up by his supporters in Ankara.
Mr Erdogan has heaped insults on the main opposition party for increasing the number of MPs in a parliamentary vote held two weeks ago. The actual number has come down to 129 as the party has given away dozens of seats to its allies.
He has condemned the opposition coalition’s pro-LGBT policies, which he says are at odds with his own focus on families.
The run-up to the referendum became increasingly frantic. In one incident, an opposition Nana party official was stabbed in front of a party office in the northern coastal city of Ordu.
The motive for Erhan Kurd’s killing is unclear, but a leading opposition official accused youths of celebrating the election result.
Although the final results have not been confirmed, the Supreme Election Council has said there is no doubt about who won.
It was highly unusual for the palace complex to be opened to the public – but the decision extended his reign by a quarter of a century.
Supporters came from all over Ankara to taste the victory. There were Islamic chants and some prayed with Turkish flags on the grass.
Overnight, Turkey’s economic crisis was forgotten. A supporter, Sehan, said it was all a lie: “No one is hungry. We are very happy with his economic policies. He will do even better in the next five years.”
But the president acknowledged that tackling inflation is Turkey’s most pressing issue.
The question is whether he is ready to take action. At an annual rate of about 44%, inflation creeps into everyone’s life.
The cost of food, rent and other everyday goods has soared, as Mr Erdogan’s refusal to stick to orthodox economic policy has pushed up interest rates.
The Turkish lira hit record lows against the dollar and the central bank struggled to meet demand for foreign currency.
“If they continue with low interest rates, as Erdogan has signaled, stricter capital controls are the only other option,” warns Selva Demirolf, an economics professor at Koç University in Istanbul.
The economy was far from the minds of Erdogan’s supporters, who spoke of his powerful position in the world and his tough stance on fighting “terrorists,” by which they mean Kurdish militias.
President Erdogan accused his opposite number of supporting terrorists and criticized him for promising to release the former co-leader of Turkey’s second-largest opposition party, the pro-Kurdish HDP.
Selahatin Demirtas has languished in prison since 2016, despite the European Court of Human Rights ordering his release.
Mr Erdogan said Mr Demirtas would remain in prison as long as he was in power.
He pledged to prioritize rebuilding in areas hit by February’s twin earthquakes and to “voluntarily” bring back a million Syrian refugees.
Crowds flocked to Istanbul’s Taksim Square, many from the Middle East and the Gulf.
Palestinians from Jordan slung Turkish flags around their shoulders. A Tunisian visitor, Alaa Nasser, said Mr Erdogan was not making progress in his own country, saying “he is also supporting the Arabs and the Muslim world”.
For all the celebrations, the idea of unity in this polarized country is more distant than ever.
After a failed coup in 2016, Mr Erdogan abolished the post of prime minister and amassed extensive powers, which his opponent had vowed to roll back.
A voter outside an Ankara polling station on Sunday said he wanted an end to the brain drain that began with the post-coup purge. It is now in danger of intensifying.
Turkey’s opposition must regroup ahead of local elections in 2024.
Mr Kilicdaroglu’s party has two popular mayors in Ankara and Istanbul – one of whom may have had a better chance of winning the presidential election.
Additional reporting from Istanbul by Kagil Kasaboglu.
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