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Erdogan confronts polarised Turkey after historic win

By AFP - May 29,2023 - Last updated at May 29,2023

Supporters of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan celebrate near Taksim Mosque at the Taksim Square in Istanbul on the day of the Presidential runoff vote in Istanbul, on Sunday (AFP photo)

ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday confronted the tough task of uniting his deeply divided country after winning a historic run-off election to extend his two-decade rule to 2028.

Turkey's longest-serving leader brushed aside a powerful opposition coalition, a biting economic crisis and widespread anger following a devastating February earthquake to beat secular challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu in Sunday's vote.

But the four-point victory margin was Erdogan’s narrowest of any past election, highlighting the sharp polarisation the Islamic-rooted conservative will contend with in his final term in office.

Erdogan, 69, attempted to sound conciliatory in a victory speech to thousands of jubilant supporters gathered outside Ankara’s presidential palace, calling on Turks to “come together in unity and solidarity”.

Erdogan’s elated supporters hailed the man they call “Reis” (chief) after he won the first run-off in Turkey’s history.

“God granted our wishes. Erdogan is a great leader, he has brought Turkey a long way,” Burak Durmus, 24, said in Istanbul’s conservative stronghold of Uskudar.

His opponent Kilicdaroglu defiantly vowed to “continue the struggle” against Erdogan and his AKP party, which has dominated Turkish politics since 2002.

“Our elders taught us to struggle... we will not lose or give up on this country with one election,” Bugra Iyimaya, a 28-year-old academic, told AFP in Istanbul.

“We will resist and fight until the end.”


‘It could get ugly’ 


Having harnessed a coalition of nationalist, conservative and religious voters, Erdogan “will double down on his brand of populist policies... political polarisation is here to stay”, said Emre Peker of the Eurasia Group consultancy.

Relieving Turks of the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1990s is an urgent priority.

Inflation is running at more than 40 per cent, partly exacerbated by Erdogan’s unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to try and cool spiralling prices.

Analysts say Erdogan’s lavish campaign spending pledges and unwavering attachment to lower interest rates will further strain banks’ currency reserves and the lira, which edged down against the dollar on Monday.

Hopes for “an abandonment of the crazy, unconventional economic model and a return to the favour of international investors are finally dashed”, said Bartosz Sawicki, market analyst at Conotoxia fintech.

“The current set-up is just not sustainable,” added Timothy Ash of BlueBay Asset Management, pointing to the tens of billions of dollars the central bank has blown to prop up the lira.

If Erdogan refuses to perform a U-turn on interest rates and abandon the lira, “it could get ugly”, he warned.

A colossal reconstruction effort in Turkey’s southeast is still at an early stage after February’s earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people and destroyed infrastructure and livelihoods.

Official figures estimated the damage at more than $100 billion.


‘Balancing act’ 


NATO partners are anxiously waiting for Ankara to approve Sweden’s stalled bid to join the US-led defence alliance.

Erdogan has blocked the application, accusing Stockholm of sheltering Turkish opposition figures with alleged links to outlawed Kurdish militants.

“Another five years of Erdogan means more of the geopolitical balancing act between Russia and the West,” said Galip Dalay, an associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank.

“Turkey and the West will engage in transactional cooperation wherever its interests dictate it,” not joining Western sanctions on Moscow for the war in Ukraine and seeking economically profitable relationships, Dalay added.

US President Joe Biden and Erdogan are due to talk on Monday, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told television channel A Haber.

NATO issues and the delivery of US F-16 fighter jets to Turkey are likely to be high on the agenda.

Biden needs Congress to approve their transfer and Kalin said US senators were using the jets “as political leverage”.

If the programme stalls, “it’s not the end of the world... we don’t allow them to take us as prisoners,” Kalin added.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the first leaders to congratulate Erdogan, and the Kremlin said it looked forward to achieving “very ambitious” goals with Turkey.

Ties with neighbouring Syria remain at a low ebb after Turkey backed rebels fighting President Bashar Assad in the civil war. Recent Russian-mediated talks failed to achieve a breakthrough towards a normalisation of relations.

Final election results will be confirmed by Tuesday after remaining objections are dealt with, the election authority chief was quoted as saying by the Anadolu state news agency.

Erdogan’s inauguration ceremony, the nomination of a new Cabinet and the sitting of the new parliament will follow.


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