Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s supporters celebrated late into the night after he secured another five years as Turkey’s president. Erdogan proclaimed that the entire nation of 85 million had won, but his call for unity seemed insincere as he mocked his opponent Kemal Kilicdaroglu and targeted a jailed Kurdish leader and the LGBT community.
Kilicdaroglu did not explicitly concede defeat and complained about the unfairness of the election, alleging that Erdogan’s party had utilized state resources against him. Erdogan secured just over 52% of the vote, but nearly half of the electorate did not support his authoritarian vision.
Although Kilicdaroglu managed to force Erdogan into a runoff, he was unable to close the significant gap in votes and fell more than two million votes behind. Erdogan celebrated his victory with speeches to cheering supporters in Istanbul and from his palace in Ankara, taunting Kilicdaroglu with the words “Bye, bye, Kemal.”
Erdogan also criticized the increase in seats of the main opposition party in the parliamentary vote and condemned the opposition alliance’s pro-LGBT policies, contrasting them with his focus on families. The lead-up to the election was marked by tension, including a fatal stabbing of an opposition party official, which was attributed to celebratory youths.
Although the final results were not confirmed, the Supreme Election Council declared Erdogan the winner. This extended his period in power to a quarter of a century, a result that was both unprecedented and accompanied by the opening of the palace complex to the public.
Supporters from all over Ankara gathered to celebrate the victory, momentarily setting aside Turkey’s economic crisis. Erdogan acknowledged that tackling inflation was the most urgent issue, but there are concerns about his willingness to implement necessary measures. Inflation rates near 44% have severely impacted people’s lives, with the cost of food, rent, and everyday goods skyrocketing.
Despite economic concerns, Erdogan’s supporters expressed pride in his powerful position on the global stage and his tough stance against “terrorists,” referring to Kurdish militants. Erdogan accused his opponent of siding with terrorists and vowed to keep Selahattin Demirtas, a former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, in jail despite international calls for his release.
Erdogan also promised to prioritize rebuilding areas affected by earthquakes and facilitate the “voluntary” return of Syrian refugees. People flocked to Istanbul’s Taksim Square to join in the celebrations, including visitors from the Middle East and the Gulf who praised Erdogan for his support of Arabs and the Muslim world.
Despite the festive atmosphere, the idea of unity in the deeply polarized country seemed more distant than ever. Since the failed coup in 2016, Erdogan has consolidated power by abolishing the position of prime minister and expanding his authority. The opposition will now need to regroup for the local elections in 2024, with the possibility that their popular mayors in Ankara and Istanbul could have had a better chance of winning the presidential race.
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