Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has extended his presidency to a third decade after winning re-election.
Erdogan won 52.2 percent of the vote in the second round of Sunday’s presidential election, beating his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu’s 47.8 percent, according to preliminary results.
Here are five key takeaways from Turkey’s referendum results:
Erdogan is the quintessential political survivor
Erdogan is already Turkey’s longest-serving leader, but his election victory extends his 20-year rule — he was prime minister and then president from 2003 to 2014 — for another five years.
His influence over Turkey is now rivaled only by the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who served as president for 15 years between 1923 and his death in 1938.
Erdogan has managed to shape Turkish politics. In 2014, he became the first president elected by popular vote, winning a referendum that transitioned Turkey to a presidential system of government.
But ahead of the May 14 first round, the elections were widely seen as the toughest Erdogan has ever faced against a backdrop of the worst economic crisis, a seemingly united opposition and opinion polls that largely predict his loss.
Still, when he was forced into the second round for the first time, Erdogan defied expectations, topping the first round with roughly 5 percentage points and writing on the wall before the run-off results were announced.
The political acumen that contributed to Erdogan’s survival can be traced back to his youth and career that began in the 1970s in the Istanbul district of Beyoglu. Covering his childhood home in Kasimbasa’s working-class neighborhood.
He rose through the ranks and, in 1994, became the mayor of Istanbul, where he tackled many of the problems facing the city’s rapidly growing population, such as air pollution, garbage collection, and the lack of clean water.
But his rise led to clashes with the Turkish government, and prison terms and a political ban on public readings of politically charged poetry.
Erdogan founded the Justice and Development Party (AK Party), which won the 2002 elections against the background of the financial crisis. Since then, the AK Party has won every national election it has contested, and has survived many challenges, most notably a failed coup in 2016.
Erdoğan has been able to reinvent himself, find new alliances, change policy when deemed necessary – and maintain power despite increasingly emboldened opposition.
For many supporters, especially in Turkey’s Anatolian heartland and Black Sea region, he represents them – despite what his critics say.
This may be the result of clitaroglu
After it became clear that Erdogan would continue as president, Kilicdaroglu said in his first comments that he would continue what he called “the fight for democracy.”
“All the means of government were mobilized for a political party and placed at the feet of one man,” said the Republican Party (CHP) leader.
Despite the loss, Kilicdaroglu has yet to resign as CHP leader. Calls for it are likely to increase now.
This is not Kilicdaroglu’s first loss since he was elected party leader in 2010, losing CHP parliamentary elections in 2011, 2015, 2018 and 2023 and backing a failed candidate in the 2014 and 2018 presidential elections.
There were already questions about Kilicdaroglu’s candidacy before the vote, after a key ally, Meral Aksenser, briefly withdrew his support. Many opposition politicians now look to the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara, Ekrem Imamoglu and Mansur Yavas, as future leaders.
Were the Kurds put off by nationalist rhetoric?
Looking at Turkey’s electoral map, it is clear that Kilicdaroğlu received support in Istanbul, Ankara and Turkey’s western Aegean coast and Kurdish-majority southeast regions.
Voters in the southeast did not vote for the CHP in parliamentary elections (pro-Kurdish Yızıl Sol came out on top), a sign that the presidential vote came less because of support for the party and because of Erdogan’s opposition.
The president has lost support in recent years for a crackdown on the pro-Kurdish party HDP and military and security operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and its affiliates in Turkey and beyond.
Yet looking at the results of the second round of elections, it is clear that there has been a significant drop in voter turnout in the South East of 5 to 8 percent.
This may be a response to the increasingly nationalist rhetoric adopted by Kilicdaroglu and the opposition in an attempt to win the support of voters who supported ultranationalist Sinan Ogan in the first round.
Kilicdaroglu accepted the endorsement of far-right Umit Ozdag, which may have further alienated Kurdish voters.
The Syrian refugee issue remains a concern
The campaign took an increasingly anti-refugee tone, especially as opposition parties vowed to force Syrians and other refugee populations to leave.
In the first round of the election, Ogan won 5.2 percent of the vote with the support of the newly established ultranationalist ATA coalition led by Ozdag’s Victory Party.
Ogan and Ozdag’s election campaign platform strongly opposed Erdogan and his AK Party, although Ogan eventually gave his support to the president.
Their agenda included promises to return millions of refugees in the country to their countries of origin and used harsh language against “terrorist” groups.
Kilicdaroglu accused the government of allowing 10 million “irregular migrants” to enter the country, a false figure. “We will not abandon our homeland to this mentality that has allowed 10 million illegal immigrants into our midst,” he said in a video posted on Twitter days before the run-off.
Kilicdaroglu’s campaign further ratcheted up its anti-refugee tone by warning that the number of refugees and migrants could rise to 30 million.
The rhetoric has led to an increase in racist comments online and in public, and an increasingly unpleasant atmosphere among Syrians and other refugee populations.
Democracy decides in Turkey
A joint parliamentary and presidential vote decided not only who leads Turkey, a NATO-member nation of 85 million, but also where its economy is headed amid a deep cost-of-living crisis and its foreign form. principle.
Although the exact turnout for Sunday’s second phase of polling is yet to be announced, observers said voter turnout was high. 89 percent voting was recorded in the first round.
Erdogan has been accused of taking an increasingly authoritarian turn in Turkey, but government and opposition supporters may point to high election turnout as evidence that Turkey as a nation has invested in its democracy and that Turks are eager to participate.
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