A host of world leaders congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his newest election victory on Sunday night, following a historic runoff that posed the biggest challenge to his 20 years of transformative but divisive rule.
Erdogan won reelection Sunday, extending his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade as the country reels from high inflation and the aftermath of an earthquake that leveled entire cities.
US President Joe Biden on Sunday congratulated Erdogan, tweeting: “I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO Allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges,” He made no mention of recent tensions in the bilateral relationship.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also offered his own congratulations to Erdogan on Twitter, calling Turkey “a valued @NATO Ally and partner.”
“I look forward to our continued work together with the government chosen by the Turkish people,” he said. Blinken also praised Sunday’s high turnout rate and the country’s “long democratic tradition.”
Ties between Turkey and the United States have been tested in recent years, including over crackdowns on dissent, military operations in Syria, Erdogan’s close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin even amid Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, and Ankara’s protestations over a bid by Sweden to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Putin said Erdogan’s victory Sunday was “clear evidence” that the Turkish people support his efforts to “strengthen state sovereignty and pursue an independent foreign policy.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was counting on building the partnership between the two countries and strengthening cooperation “for the security and stability of Europe.”
Earlier, Israeli President Isaac Herzog also sent his congratulations to Erdogan, tweeting: “I am convinced that we will work together to strengthen and expand the good ties between Turkiye and Israel.”
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani congratulated Erdogan, tweeting his hopes for even tighter ties between the countries.
Palestinian terror group Hamas released a statement congratulating the longtime Turkish leader and hoped for a new era of “strengthening Islamic-Arab ties and support for the Palestinian issue.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also released a statement hailing the incumbent’s victory, expressing belief he “will continue on the path of development and secure great achievements for Turkey and its people.”
With more than 99% of ballot boxes opened, unofficial results from competing news agencies showed Erdogan with 52% of the vote, compared with 48% for his challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu. The head of Turkey’s electoral board confirmed the victory, saying that even after accounting for outstanding votes, the result was another term for Erdogan.
Kilicdaroglu pushed Erdogan into Turkey’s first runoff on May 14 and narrowed the margin further in the second round.
A third term gives Erdogan, a polarizing populist, an even stronger hand domestically and internationally, and the election results will have implications far beyond the capital of Ankara. Turkey stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it plays a key role in NATO.
In two speeches — one in Istanbul and one in Ankara — Erdogan thanked the nation for entrusting him with the presidency for five more years.
“We hope to be worthy of your trust, as we have been for 21 years,” he told supporters on a campaign bus outside his home in Istanbul in his first comments after the results emerged.
He ridiculed his challenger for his loss, saying “bye bye bye, Kemal,” as supporters booed. He said the divisions of the election are now over, but he continued to rail against his opponent as well as the former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish party who has been imprisoned for years over alleged links to terrorism.
Turkey’s main cities erupted in jubilation as Erdogan spoke.
Traffic on Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square ground to a halt and huge crowds gathered outside his presidential palace in Ankara.
“The only winner today is Turkey,” Erdogan said to hundreds of thousands gathered outside the presidential palace in Ankara, promising to work hard for Turkey’s second century, which he calls the “Turkish century.” The country marks its centennial this year.
Erdogan, the country’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 cobbled together a powerful coalition that grouped Erdogan’s disenchanted former allies with secular nationalists and religious conservatives.
He pushed Erdogan into Turkey’s first runoff on May 14, and narrowed the margin further in the second round. He promised to make a statement later Sunday.
Opposition supporters viewed the election as a do-or-die chance to save Turkey from being turned into an autocracy by a man whose consolidation of power rivals that of Ottoman sultans.
“I invite all my citizens to cast their ballot in order to get rid of this authoritarian regime and bring true freedom and democracy to this country,” Kilicdaroglu said after casting his ballot on Sunday.
The two candidates offered sharply different visions of the country’s future, and its recent past.
Critics blame Erdogan’s unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis. Many also faulted his government for a slow response to the earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people in Turkey.
In his victory remarks, Erdogan said rebuilding the quake-struck cities would be his priority, and he said a million Syrian refugees would go back to Turkish-controlled “safe zones” in Syria as part of a resettlement project being run with Qatar.
Erdogan has retained the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for lifting Islam’s profile in Turkey, which was founded on secular principles, and for raising the country’s influence in world politics.
In Ankara, Erdogan voter Hacer Yalcin said Turkey’s future was great. “Of course Erdogan is the winner … Who else? He has made everything for us,” Yalcin said. “God blesses us!”
Erdogan, a 69-year-old Muslim, is set to remain in power until 2028.
He transformed the presidency from a largely ceremonial role to a powerful office through a narrowly won 2017 referendum that scrapped Turkey’s parliamentary system of governance. He was the first directly elected president in 2014, and won the 2018 election that ushered in the executive presidency.
The first half of Erdogan’s tenure included reforms that allowed the country to begin talks to join the European Union, and economic growth that lifted many out of poverty. But he later moved to suppress freedoms and the media and concentrated more power in his own hands, especially after a failed coup attempt that Turkey says was orchestrated by the U.S.-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen. The cleric denies involvement.
Erdogan’s rival was a soft-mannered former civil servant who has led the pro-secular Republican People’s Party, or CHP, since 2010.
In a frantic effort to reach out to nationalist voters in the runoff, Kilicdaroglu vowed to send back refugees and ruled out peace negotiations with Kurdish militants if he is elected.
In Kurdish-majority Diyarbakir, 37-year-old metalworker Ahmet Koyun said everyone would have to accept the results.
“It is sad on behalf of our people that a government with such corruption, such stains, has come into power again. Mr. Kemal would have been great for our country, at least for a change of scene,” he said.
Sunday also marked the 10th anniversary of the start of mass anti-government protests that broke out over plans to uproot trees in Istanbul’s Gezi Park. The demonstrations became one of the most serious challenges to Erdogan’s government.
Erdogan’s response to the protests, in which eight people were convicted, was a harbinger of a crackdown on civil society and freedom of expression.
Erdogan and pro-government media portrayed Kilicdaroglu, who received the backing of the country’s pro-Kurdish party, as colluding with “terrorists” and of supporting what they described as “deviant” LGBTQ rights.
In his victory speech, he repeated those themes, saying LGBTQ people cannot “infiltrate” his ruling party or its nationalist allies.