Turkey’s Erdogan Wins Historic Runoff Election, Extends His Two-Decade Rule

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan appealed for national unity Monday after winning a historic runoff election that extended two decades of his transformative but divisive rule until 2028. Erdogan fought off stiff competition from a newly unified opposition and skyrocketing costs of living to claim victory in the presidential and parliamentary elections, which he dominated with a fiery campaign focused on nationalism and a promise of more growth and jobs.

Using his clout as a two-term incumbent and his near-total media control, Erdogan managed to shift the debate about Turkey’s economy, corruption, and the impact of February’s earthquakes away from the issues that would have made him vulnerable, analysts say. Analysts say he also used his image as an ardent champion of national imperial greatness to reframe the election as a referendum on the country’s future in the world.

According to preliminary results from Sunday’s vote, Erdogan’s AK Party and its allies appear poised to retain a majority in parliament. The opposition bloc, led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi, or People’s Republic Party, is trailing far behind with only 35% of votes and 231 seats.

The 69-year-old overcame Turkey’s worst economic crisis in a generation and the most potent opposition alliance to ever face his Islamic-rooted party on his way to his most brutal election win. He tapped into widespread discontent about the cost of living in the country battling high inflation and grappling with the aftermath of a massive earthquake. He promised more jobs and infrastructure and vowed to defend Islam’s orthodoxy and Turkey’s secular roots against a perceived westward drift.

The leading opposition candidate, Kilicdaroglu, fought back with promises to return Turkey to a parliamentary government system and limit presidential powers. But his campaign could have connected with center and moderate voters, researchers say. They prefer unifying and result-oriented messages from politicians, and Kilicdaroglu still needs to deliver.

Despite the setback, experts expect the opposition to keep fighting. Its challenge will be to find a presidential candidate capable of matching Erdogan on the campaign trail, who can draw AKP voters and appeal to centrist and right-wing voters alike. That candidate will have to be willing to accept limits on their power and pursue a quick transition to a parliamentary regime, analysts say. Failure to do so could deprive Turkey of its most decisive leader in years and further undermine the country’s reputation as a stable democracy, analysts warn. “There is a growing feeling that Turkey can no longer afford to continue being governed by the whims of one person,” said Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting scholar at the Brooking Institution. “Turkish citizens, even those who love the president, have seen this as a governance hazard.” In addition, the United States and European Union are closely watching the election which have been wary of Erdogan’s authoritarian tendencies and fractious relations with other regional leaders.

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