What Erdogan's win means for Turkey and the world

Turkey, a NATO stalwart, fosters close ties with Russia

TURKEY-ELECTION/ Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Ermine Erdogan wave as he addresses his supporters following his victory in the second round of the presidential election at the Presidential Palace in Ankara | Reuters

As Turkey still reels under the aftermath of the powerful earthquakes that devastated the country in February, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has managed to tide over one of the biggest tests to his leadership. The authoritarian leader prevailed in a presidential runoff against candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu, extending his rule into a third decade.

After nearly 99 per cent of ballot boxes were opened on Sunday, news agencies reported that Erdogan garnered 52 per cent of the vote, compared with 48 per cent for Kilicdaroglu. Speaking to thousands of his supporters in Ankara, Erdogan said: “We are not the only winners, the winner is Turkey. The winner is all parts of our society, our democracy is the winner,” Erdogan said. He added that his government's priorities would be fighting inflation and rebuilding the country shattered by the quakes that claimed the lives of over 50,000 people.

Erdogan was at the receiving end of massive anger and criticism from survivors and opposition parties over the country's poor management of rescue services during the earthquakes. The government was also blamed for the poor construction standards in the country in the 2000s, that led to the collapse of hundreds of buildings and in turn increased the toll. Critics also blame Erdogan's unconventional economic policies for skyrocketing inflation.

Kilicdaroglu, leader of the left-leaning CHP, said this was the most 'unfair election period in our history', adding that he feared for the hard days ahead for the country. Erdogan's victory in a tight race leaves the country divided as both camps wanted different things for the country. Describing the race as a last hope for the Turkish democracy, several opposition parties had unified into a bloc and supported Kilicdaroglu to wrest power from Erdogan.

World leaders congratulate

In a statement on Twitter, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy congratulated Erdogan for his victory. “We count on the further strengthening of the strategic partnership for the benefit of our countries, as well as the strengthening of cooperation for the security and stability of Europe,” Zelenskyy said.

"The election victory was a natural result of your selfless work as the head of the Republic of Turkey, clear evidence of the support of the Turkish people for your efforts to strengthen state sovereignty and conduct an independent foreign policy," Putin said in a message to Erdogan.

US President Joe Biden also congratulate Erdogan on winning the second round in Turkey's presidential election. "I look forward to continuing to work together as NATO allies on bilateral issues and shared global challenges," Biden said in a tweet.

Turkey's balancing act

Turkey has been a long-standing NATO member for decades, but Erdogan has been pushing his own foreign policy equations since the Russian invasion of Ukraine last year. Turkey, which brokered a controversial deal with Russia in 2017 to buy its S-400 surface-to-air missile defense system, has not gone along with other NATO allies to impose sanctions on Putin. Turkey, in fact, strengthened its energy ties with Russia and doubled its imports of cheap Russian oil last year. In yet another power-play, Turkey has held up Sweden's NATO membership over Erdogan's claims that Stockholm has been supporting PKK and other groups deemed 'terrorists' by Turkey.

Ankara had previously blocked Finland's NATO entry also but ultimately allowed it to join. Erdogan has been trying to envision his own foreign policy, on his own terms, by keeping a distance from the West. Experts say that Erdogan might finally allow Sweden's entry in time for the upcoming summit in July, but not before extracting concessions from the Western world, including a deal for the US's F-16 fighter jets. Turkey was kicked out of the US's fighter jet programme after it struck a deal with its ally Russia for S-400. The Biden administration has signaled it is ready to let Turkey buy upgraded equipment, but it ultimately needs Congress’s approval.

Meanwhile, Erdogan has also portrayed himself as valuable to the West—he helped bring Putin on line in last year’s Black Sea Grain Initiative, a deal brokered by the United Nations that allowed grain exports from Ukraine to continue and controlled a surge in food prices. While his supporters see him as a visionary leader in the Muslim world, critics await to see the international consequences of his return. 


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