29 May 2023, 21:48

Erdogan confronts polarised Turkey after historic win

ISTANBUL, May  29, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - 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, an economic crisis and 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.

Erdogan, 69, called on Turks to "come together in unity and solidarity",
whereas Kilicdaroglu vowed to "continue the struggle" against the president and
his AKP party, which has dominated Turkish politics since 2002.

"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

Bugra Iyimaya, a 28-year-old academic, said the opposition would "resist
and fight until the end" after Erdogan won Turkey's first run-off.

"Our elders taught us to struggle... we will not lose or give up on this
country with one election," he told AFP.

International observers led by the Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said media bias and restrictions to freedom of
expression created "an unlevel playing field" and "an unjustified advantage"
for Erdogan.

Some opposition supporters faced intimidation and harassment while both
sides used "inflammatory and discriminatory language" by accusing each other of
collaborating with "terrorist organisations", exacerbating tensions, they added.

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

- 'It could get ugly' -

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

Inflation is running at more than 40 percent, partly exacerbated by
Erdogan's unorthodox policy of cutting interest rates to try to cool spiralling

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 al-Assad in the civil war. Recent Russian-mediated
talks failed to achieve a breakthrough towards a normalisation of relations.

Erdogan's inauguration ceremony, the nomination of a new cabinet and the
sitting of the new parliament will follow the confirmation of the final
election results this week.


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