ANKARA, Turkey – Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has vexed his Western allies while tightening his grip on power during 20 years as the country’s paramount politician, won reelection on Sunday, according to election officials.
Erdogan overcame fierce competition from a newly unified political opposition and widespread anger among voters over the country’s skyrocketing cost of living to secure another five-year term.
The Supreme Election Council of Turkey announced Erdogan’s victory, citing preliminary results. Erdogan led his challenger, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, by 2.2 million votes, the council’s chair, Ahmet Yener, said in a televised speech late Sunday. More than 99% of the ballot boxes had been counted, he said, and those remaining would not change the winner.
Erdogan will most likely interpret his victory as a validation of his legacy, which has included pursuing a more assertive role for the NATO member in global affairs and a vast consolidation of power in his own hands at home.
Addressing his supporters from atop a white bus near his home in Istanbul, Erdogan saluted the crowd, sang a song and thanked his supporters.
“We will be together until the grave,” he said.
Kilicdaroglu told his supporters that he did not contest the results but said the election overall had been unfair. Erdogan used his incumbent power to tilt the playing field to his advantage during the campaign: He added billions of dollars in new spending to insulate voters from the immediate effects of inflation, increased civil servant salaries and repeatedly raised the minimum wage.
Meral Aksener, the head of the second-largest party in the opposition coalition that backed Kilicdaroglu, conceded the race.
“I congratulate Mr. Erdogan,” she said. “The voters said what they had to say.”
After he first became prime minister in 2003, Erdogan presided over tremendous economic growth that saw Turkish cities transformed and millions of Turks lifted out of poverty. Internationally, he was hailed as a new model of Islamist democrat who was pro-business and wanted strong ties with the West.
But over the past decade, criticism mounted at home and abroad. He faced mass protests against his governing style in 2013, became president in 2014 and survived a failed coup attempt in 2016. Along the way, he seized opportunities to sideline rivals and gather more power, drawing accusations from the political opposition that he was tipping the country into autocracy.
For Western powers, Erdogan’s win means five more years of navigating a prickly relationship with a complicated partner.
While the United States and other NATO allies applauded Erdogan’s condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, he has frustrated them by pursing a closer relationship with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, whom he called “my friend.”
It is unlikely that he will change course after winning reelection, especially because of Turkey’s deep reliance on Russian tourism and energy imports, and because Russia is building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant near the Mediterranean coast.
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Here’s what to know:
– Once a new political force promising to clean up corruption, expand the economy and strengthen ties with the West, Erdogan is now a nearly all-powerful leader blamed for Turkey’s sinking currency and criticized for undermining democracy.
– His victory on Sunday gives Erdogan a mandate to remain in power until 2028. What will happen then? He’ll probably be out, according to Turkish legal scholars. But it’s complicated.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.