Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s recent election victory in Turkey has left pollsters and analysts surprised, as they had predicted a closer race with opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu. With a difference of just four percentage points, Erdogan begins his third term in office, leading a strategically important NATO nation.
Most voters chose Erdogan, a seasoned autocrat, over Kilicdaroglu, an untested democrat who campaigned as a “nice guy.” Despite swerving right and vowing to send all refugees home, Kilicdaroglu failed to gain enough support from nationalists. Erdogan, an Islamist leader, has maintained a strong bond with religious conservatives throughout his 20-year political career.
As the election results were announced, Ankara’s streets filled with Turkish flags, car horns, and cheering Erdogan supporters. Many gathered at the presidential palace, which Kilicdaroglu had promised to put to public use if elected. Hatice Duran, a 50-year-old supporter, said, “He is the leader who defied the entire world and taught the entire world a lesson.”
Erdogan’s appeal as a strong, unyielding leader resonates with many in Turkey. The election outcome has left the country’s opposition bruised, while the Kremlin celebrates. Russian President Vladimir Putin was among the first to congratulate Erdogan, having postponed a US$600m payment for Russian natural gas to help tilt the scales in his favour.
Erdogan’s victory speech claimed that “only Turkey was the winner,” but he quickly attacked the opposition and the LGBTQ community. Human rights and free speech may be further eroded in the coming years, with few checks and balances in place. Nearly 48% of voters who sought change may now be disappointed and fearful.
Turkey’s future as a divided nation with a broken economy remains uncertain. Critics argue that Erdogan offers no solution for either issue. Neighbouring countries and NATO allies will be watchful, as Erdogan has a history of upending the established international order.
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