Erdogan Wins Turkey's Presidential Runoff Election, Faced Strongest Challenge in 20 Years

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, left, Russia's President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lock hands during a group photo in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. The leaders of Russia, Iran and Turkey are meeting in the Turkish capital for talks on Syria's future. The leaders are expected to reaffirm their commitment to Syria's territorial integrity and the continuation of local cease-fires when they meet Wednesday. (Tolga Bozoglu/Pool Photo via AP)

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, claimed Sunday that he has won another term as he takes a commanding 52-48 lead against rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu with almost all the 26 million votes counted.

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It was the biggest political challenge for the president who has spent the last 20 years as the paramount politician in the country after he founded the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2021. Turkey has recently faced high inflation, a massive deadly earthquake, and Erdogan’s mystery illness in April during the height of the campaign.

But the strongman and president of a NATO country that is at the juncture of Europe, Asia, and the Middle East proved agile once again:

…the Turkish president proved that he remains the same tactician who rose from a childhood in Istanbul’s docklands to the presidential palace, surviving a coup attempt in 2016 before maneuvering himself into a position of leverage in Russia, the West and beyond.

“Now we opened the door for the century of Turkey,” said Erdogan, standing on top of a bus and speaking to a crowd of cheering supporters in Istanbul. “We will be reborn again, and no one will be able to get rid of us.”

(…)

Now 69 years old, Erdogan would begin a third decade of his rule after serving as both prime minister and president since 2003. The country’s longest-serving leader, he has proven the enduring appeal of his political brand, which blends Islamism and nationalism, to millions of his supporters within Turkey, a NATO member since the 1950s.

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“He is calm when pressured,” said former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Jim Jeffrey. “He is, in a cold-blooded way, transactional. He knows what he’s doing, and projects that he is in charge. That is appealing to most electorates, and it’s particularly appealing to the Turkish electorate.”

Erdogan supporters were ebullient:

Another massive rally:

His defeated opponent Kilicdaroglu, “an accountant and bureaucrat with a reputation as a clean politician and secularist who wants to restore Turkish Western relations and trust with Nato allies,” also made a statement:

“I had to do everything I could to make sure you could live in a fair nation, and I will continue to lead that fight,” said Mr. Kilicdaroglu, speaking in Ankara after Erdogan declared victory Sunday evening. “In this election, the will of the people to change an authoritarian regime has emerged despite all pressures,” he said.

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With this victory, Erdogan shows that he’s going to be a power player on the world stage for years to come.

Over the past year, Erdogan has bolstered his image within Turkey of being an important world leader by facilitating peace talks between Russia and Ukraine. He also sold weapons to Kyiv while also expanding Ankara’s economic relationship with Moscow. He continues to hold up Sweden’s accession to NATO, a stance that is politically popular in Turkey and which has also given him leverage over other Western allies.

“We became a country with more say in the world. He decreased our dependence on foreign countries,” said Murat Sisko, 22, an electronics technician. It is the first time that Sisko has voted, he said, and he backed Erdogan.

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