Turkey's Erdogan declared winner of presidential runoff

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won re-election Sunday, extending his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade as the country reels from high inflation and the aftermath of an earthquake that levelled entire cities.

Incumbent secured 52% of the vote compared to rival Kilicdaroglu's 48%

A person clenches their fist while aggressively speaking into a microphone.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters in Istanbul on Sunday. (Murad Sezer/Reuters)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan won re-election Sunday, extending his increasingly authoritarian rule into a third decade as the country reels from high inflation and the aftermath of an earthquake that levelled entire cities.

A third term gives Erdogan an even stronger hand domestically and internationally, and the election results will have implications far beyond Ankara. Turkey stands at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, and it plays a key role in NATO.

With more than 99 per cent of ballot boxes opened, unofficial results from competing news agencies showed Erdogan with 52 per cent of the vote, compared with 48 per cent 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.

In his first comments since the polls closed, 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.

A person waves a Turkish flag from the sunroof of a car during street celebrations.
Erdogan supporters celebrate outside his party's offices in Istanbul on Sunday. (Khalil Hamra/The Associated Press)

He ridiculed his challenger for his loss, saying "bye bye bye, Kemal," as supporters booed.

"The only winner today is Turkey," Erdogan said, promising to work hard for Turkey's second century. The country marks its centennial this year. "No one can look down on our nation."

Kilicdaroglu campaigned on promises to reverse Erdogan's democratic backsliding, to restore the economy by reverting to more conventional policies, and to improve ties with the West. He said the election was "the most unjust ever," with all state resources mobilized for Erdogan.

"We will continue to be at the forefront of this struggle until real democracy comes to our country," he said in Ankara. He thanked the more than 25 million people who voted for him and asked them to "remain upright."

A person at a polling station prepares to cast their ballot.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan's runoff rival, casts his ballot at a polling station in Ankara on Sunday. (Ali Unal/The Associated Press)

The people have shown their will "to change an authoritarian government despite all the pressures," he said.

Supporters of Erdogan, a divisive populist, were celebrating even before the final results arrived, waving Turkish or ruling party flags, and honking car horns and chanting his name. Celebratory gunfire was heard in several Istanbul neighbourhoods.

Erdogan's domestic, international agenda

Erdogan's government vetoed Sweden's bid to join NATO and purchased Russian missile-defence systems, which prompted the United States to oust Turkey from a U.S.-led fighter-jet project. But Turkey also helped broker a crucial deal that allowed Ukrainian grain shipments and averted a global food crisis.

Steven A. Cook, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations, said Turkey was likely to "move the goal post" on Sweden's membership in NATO as it seeks demands from the United States.

He also said Erdogan, who has spoken about introducing a new constitution, was likely to make an even greater push for it.

WATCH | Why Turkey's election may be 2023's most important: 

Why Turkey's election may be 2023's most important | About That

4 months ago
Duration 10:26
Voters had their say in Turkey's presidential election, and the results will soon be decided in a run-off. About That producer Lauren Bird delves into why many are calling this election the world's most important of the year.

"It would be a constitution that would be less democratic" and would seek to lock in the changes overseen by Erdogan's conservative and religious Justice and Development Party, or AKP, Cook said.

Erdogan came just short of victory in the first round of elections on May 14. It was the first time he failed to win an election outright, but he made up for it Sunday.

His performance came despite crippling inflation and the effects of a devastating earthquake three months ago.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated Erdogan and pledged to work with him on issues such as NATO and earthquake recovery.

"Our countries are strong bilateral partners and are united by our shared commitment to upholding the fundamental principles of peace, security, and collective defence internationally," Trudeau said in a statement.

Turkey in turmoil

Critics blame Erdogan's unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation that has fuelled 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.

Erdogan has retained the backing of conservative voters who remain devoted to him for lifting Islam's profile in the 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.

A person casts a ballot into a box at a polling station.
A voter casts a ballot at a polling station in Istanbul on Sunday. (Khalil Hamra/The Associated Press)

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 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.

Election tactics

Erdogan's AKP party and its allies retained a majority of seats in parliament following a legislative election that was also held on May 14.

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, and 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.

Following the May 14 vote, international observers pointed to the criminalization of dissemination of false information and online censorship as evidence that Erdogan had an "unjustified advantage." They also said that strong turnout showed the resilience of Turkish democracy.

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.

With files from CBC News