After two decades in power, Turkey’s all-powerful leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan appeared to have the upper hand in a presidential election runoff Sunday.
With over 95% of ballot boxes counted, competing news agencies put Erdogan ahead in the vote and the incumbent claimed victory, though there was no official confirmation of the result.
Erdogan, 69, has repeatedly survived formidable political crises during his tenure including mass demonstrations, an attempted military coup, corruption allegations, a huge influx of refugees from Syria’s civil war, the rise and fall of the Islamic State terror group on Turkey’s borders, soaring inflation that passed 80% in 2022 and a torrent of criticism over his handling of earthquakes that killed more than 50,000 people.
Tight race in TurkeyRecep Tayyip Erdogan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu head for presidential runoff
Turkey’s presidential election: What’s happening?
- The Sunday runoff vote between Erdogan and challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu came after neither candidate received at least 50% support from Turkey’s 64 million eligible voters in an earlier round. The May 14 election finished with Erdogan receiving 49.5% of the vote; Kilicdaroglu garnered 44.9%. With counting still underway Sunday, Turkey’s Anka and Anadolu news agencies said Erdogan was in the lead.
What issues matter most to voters in Turkey’s election?
- During the election campaign, Erdogan portrayed himself as an ally to Turkey’s Islamist, religious conservatives and nationalists who has stood up to the West, bolstered Turkey’s defense industry and taken a hard line against militant Kurdish separatists. Kilicdaroglu drew attention to Turkey’s economic ruin and the ongoing destructive impact of the earthquakes. Both sides capitalized on anti-refugee sentiment.
Why Turkey’s presidential vote resonates beyond its borders
- Turkey is a strategically located NATO ally. Erdogan has raised the country’s diplomatic profile by, for example, helping to broker a grain deal between warring Russia and Ukraine and blocking Sweden’s membership to the military organization. He has also eroded Turkey’s democratic institutions, aggressively consolidated his own power and turned the country into one of the world’s biggest jailer of journalists. President Joe Biden has described Erdogan as an “autocrat.” Kilicdaroglu, relatively little known outside Turkey, had promised to foster better relations the West and return the country to a more secular and democratic path.
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Who’s got the edge in Turkey’s runoff vote Sunday?
- Momentum appeared to be with Erdogan. Not only did he win more votes than expected in the first round, his right-wing political bloc secured a majority in separate parliamentary elections. Just days before the runoff, Sinan Ogan, who placed third in the first round vote, endorsed Erdogan. An OSCE election observer mission said while the vote has generally been free, Erdogan enjoyed an “unjustified advantage” because of “restrictions on fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression hindered the participation of some opposition politicians and parties, as well as civil society and independent media.”
If Erdogan wins, what happens next?
- He could govern Turkey until 2029. Daron Acemoglu, a professor of economics at MIT and co-author of the book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, wrote in a recent opinion piece that Erdogan’s success would be “good news for other right-wing populists and strongmen, such as Narendra Modi in India and Donald Trump in the U.S., who are likely to continue to use similar tactics and aggressive nationalist rhetoric to animate their base and deepen polarization.” Acemoglu added: “With authoritarianism often associated with economic mismanagement, what happens in Turkey will not stay in Turkey.” Erdogan said in a recent interview that Turkey has a “special” and growing relationship with Russia despite mounting pressure on Ankara to help bolster sanctions against Moscow because of its Ukraine invasion.
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