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Erdogan Wins – Though Erdogan was predicted to win but the opposition that he faced was quite strong and at one point it appeared that an upset may occur. However, at the end of the day Erdogan got through winning a historic runoff election that extended two decades of his transformative but divisive rule until 2028. Erdogan, 69, known for his tenacity to stay in power has behaved like a chameleon to remain at the helm and has become quite a controversial figure both within and outside Turkiye but he overcame his country’s worst economic crisis in a generation and the most powerful opposition alliance to ever face his party on his way to his toughest election win beating his secular opposition challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu by four percentage points. The balloting was largely orderly though the field was stacked in Erdogan’s favour. In the run-up to the election, he tapped the treasury for populist spending programmes that raised the minimum wage, lowered the retirement age and distributed free natural gas. The president and his allies also were afforded blanket media coverage — one state outlet covered Erdogan’s campaign for more than 32 hours while devoting just 32 minutes to Kilicdaroglu. Turkiye’s longest-serving leader was tested like never before in what was widely seen as the country’s most consequential election in its 100-year history as a post-Ottoman republic. Kilicdaroglu pushed Erdogan into Turkiye’s first runoff on 14 May and narrowed the margin further in the second round. Opposition supporters viewed it as a do-or-die chance to save Turkiye from being turned into an autocracy by a man whose consolidation of power rivals that of Ottoman sultans.
The runoff election was the first in Turkey’s modern history, after neither Erdogan nor Kilicdaroglu secured a majority in the first round, winning 49 per cent and 45 per cent of the vote, respectively. On the heels of a poorer –than-expected showing on 14 May by Kilicdaroglu’s alliance, most polls predicted a comfortable victory for Erdogan, who has led Turkey for two decades as prime minister, then president. Erdogan garnered 52 per cent of the vote giving the president a four-point victory over his opponent, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, in a result that affirmed Erdogan’s gift for political survival and his uncontested control over the levers of state. Facing an electorate bludgeoned by a long economic crisis — largely of his own making — Erdogan shifted the public conversation to debates over terrorism and national sovereignty, outflanking Kilicdaroglu, who emphasised pocketbook issues and the president’s increasingly authoritarian practices. Erdogan’s victory highlighted the power of his most loyal supporters, many of them conservative Muslims, as a pivotal and enduring force in the country’s politics. And it left the opposition wondering what might have been had they chosen a candidate more charismatic than the 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu — a bespectacled party bureaucrat who adopted more hard-line rhetoric in the last weeks of his campaign in an unsuccessful bid to attract nationalist voters. Turkey’s overseas allies, including the United States, must navigate another five-year term with the mercurial Erdogan, a prickly partner who has leveraged his government’s relations with a constellation of international actors — including Russia — for domestic political gain.
Despite facing tough electoral contest, Erdogan is lionised by poorer and more rural swathes of Turkiye’s fractured society because of his promotion of religious freedoms and modernisation of once-dilapidated cities in the Anatolian heartland. But he has caused growing consternation across the Western world because of his crackdowns on dissent and pursuit of a muscular foreign policy. Many in Turkey, and the Muslim world more widely, see Erdogan as a protector of faithful Muslims who elevates Turkey globally and pushes back against the West, despite being a longtime Western ally. He launched military incursions into Syria that infuriated European powers and put Turkish soldiers on the opposite side of Kurdish forces supported by the United States. His personal relationship with Putin has also survived the Kremlin’s war on Ukraine. Turkiye’s troubled economy is benefiting from a crucial deferment of payment on Russian energy imports that helped Erdogan spend lavishly on campaign pledges this year. Erdogan also delayed Finland’s membership of NATO and is still refusing to let Sweden join the US-led defence bloc. Erdogan is likely to continue trying to play world powers off each other should he win and Turkiye’s relations with the US and the EU will remain transactional and tense.
It is opined by many that Turkiye’s unraveling economy will pose the most immediate test for Erdogan. He went through a series of central bankers to find one who would enact his wish to slash interest rates at all costs in 2021. Turkiye’s currency soon entered freefall and the annual inflation rate touched 85 per cent last year. Erdogan has promised to continue these policies and rejected analysts’ predictions of economic peril. Turkiye burned through tens of billions of dollars trying to support the lira from politically sensitive falls ahead of the vote. Many analysts say Turkiye must now hike interest rates or abandon its attempts to support the lira. They point out that the day of reckoning for Turkiye’s economy and financial markets may now just be around the corner and it may prove to be the toughest test of Erdogan’s ability to manage affairs of his country.
On the other hand, Kilicdaroglu cobbled together a powerful coalition of Erdogan’s disenchanted former allies with secular nationalists and religious conservatives. Opposition supporters viewed it as a do-or-die chance to save Turkiye from being turned into an autocracy by a leader whose consolidation of power rivals that of Ottoman sultans. But Erdogan still managed to come within a fraction of a percentage point of winning outright in the first round. Kilicdaroglu, former civil servant’s old message of social unity and democracy gave way to desk-thumping speeches about the need to immediately expel migrants and fight terrorism. His right-wing turn was targeted at nationalists who emerged as the big winners of the parallel parliamentary elections. The 74-year-old had always adhered to the firm nationalist principles of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the military commander who formed both Turkiye and Kilicdaroglu’s secular CHP party. But these had played a secondary role to his promotion of socially liberal values practised by younger voters and big-city residents. Kilicdaroglu’s party, the CHP, strives for the fiercely secular model of leadership first established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, founder of the modern Turkish state. It is known for being historically more hostile to practicing Muslims who form an enormous part of the Turkish electorate, although the CHP under Kilicdaroglu has softened its stance and was even joined by former Islamist party members.
The future does not look rosy for Erdogan as his policies have brought Turkiye to the brink of economic chaos with the country’s inflation rate surpassed 80% in 2022 and lira losing some 77% of its value against the dollar over the last five years. International and domestic voices alike also have sounded the alarm that Turkey’s democracy under Erdogan is looking less democratic by the day. The frequent arrests of journalists, forced closures of many independent media outlets and heavy crackdowns on past protest movements — as well as a 2017 constitutional referendum that vastly expanded Erdogan’s presidential powers — signal what many say is a slide toward autocracy. But with a fresh mandate to lead and previous reforms consolidating presidential power very little stands in the way of a stronger Erdogan than ever before. The Weekender