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Turkey's Erdogan wins election, solidifying his grip on power

As foreign leaders rushed to congratulate President Erdogan over his election victory, the president maintained a polarizing tone against his rivals during his victory speech.
 Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at his final election campaign rally of the second round of the election campaign on May 27, 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey. President Erdogan was forced into a runoff election when neither he nor his main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People's Party (CHP), received more than 50 percent of the vote on the May 14 election. The runoff vote will be held this Sunday, May 28. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

ANKARA — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured on Sunday another term in office, extending his 20-year hold on power in the NATO country and defeating main opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Erdogan, 69, won Turkey's most contested election in a race that saw the country deeply split around issues of the economy, national security, refugees and foreign relations.

Turkey’s High Election Board (YSK) called Erdogan’s victory late Sunday local time. Erdogan received 52.14% of the vote while Kilicdaroglu received 47.86%, according to unofficial results announced by YSK head Ahmet Yener.

Several current and former foreign leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and former US President Donald Trump, rushed to congratulate Erdogan after his election victory. 

In his congratulatory message, Putin described Erdogan’s victory as clear evidence of the support of the Turkish people for the Turkish president’s efforts to “strengthen state sovereignty and conduct an independent foreign policy.”

Unlike his previous election victory speeches, Erdogan delivered his latest speech at his presidential compound early Monday instead of at his party headquarters in Ankara. Addressing hundreds of thousands of people gathered at the scene, Erdogan maintained his polarizing tone against his rivals, reiterating his claim that Kilicdaroglu collaborated with outlawed Kurdish militants during the campaign.

Kilicdaroglu conceded defeat after results showed Erdogan with an insurmountable 4% lead. Speaking in a televised presser at his party headquarters in Ankara, Kilicdaroglu said the country witnessed an unfair process. “My real sadness is the troubles waiting for the country,” he said.

Erdogan supporters across Turkey took to the streets to celebrate their candidate’s victory.

Addressing his ecstatic supporters earlier Sunday in Istanbul, Erdogan thanked his voters for entrusting him with another five-year term in power. “All 85 million of our citizens are the winners of both the May 14 and May 28 elections,” he said, adding, “I would like to thank each and every member of our nation who once again entrusted us with the responsibility of governing the country for the next five years.”

The incumbent president’s victory was widely expected after Erdogan secured a nearly five-point lead against Kilicdaroglu in the first round on May 14. Erdogan’s electoral alliance also won control of the parliament by winning the majority of the seats.

Erdogan, 69, has been in power as prime minister since 2003, became president in 2014 and has expanded his executive powers, eliciting accusations from the opposition of veering Turkey toward authoritarianism. 

His win against Kilicdaroglu solidifies his executive presidency and his status as the longest-serving leader in the country’s history. But the incumbent president will face great challenges in power amid breakneck inflation and an acute cost-of-living crisis. 

Turkey Central Bank's net foreign reserves fell below zero for the first time since 2002, official data released earlier this week showed. The opposition charges that under Erdogan’s influence, the central bank burned its forex reserves in a bid to rein in the Turkish lira’s dramatic slump, funneling hard currency to the market through back-door channels.

Speaking early Monday, Erdogan pledged to prioritize the economy, but ruled out an IMF program. He also vowed to continue to fight against Kurdish groups in northern Syria. 

Nearly 85% turnout marked the runoff, slightly lower than the 88% registered in the first round on May 14 and lower than in previous elections.

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