Despite controversy over the count and a tense day across the country, Turkey’s incumbent president, Recip Tayyip Erdogan, declared victory in presidential and parliamentary elections, Sunday night.
While different accounts of the number of votes counted continuing to dog the final hours – and with opposition parties crying foul – Erdogan now stands ready to take on a post with far-reaching new powers.
“The people have given us a mandate to govern,” Erdogan told supporters at a rally in Istanbul on Sunday night. He will likely now become the country’s first executive president, serving under a new constitution, narrowly approved by voters last year.
Opposition supporters, however, continued to warn late Sunday and early Monday morning that a vote for Erdogan was a vote to further strengthen what they see as his increasingly autocratic rule.
Yet, with unofficial results from the state-run Anatolian News Agency (AA) declaring that he had won 52.65% of the vote, it seems Turks narrowly decided to back the man who has effectively led Turkey since 2002, first as prime minister and then as president.
If these results are validated, Erdogan also saw off a late challenge by Muammer Ince, the candidate of the center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), who reportedly won 30.75% of the vote.
Ince tweeted Sunday night that the numbers being released on the percentage of votes counted were wildly inaccurate, however, and did not match alternate figures from the official, Higher Elections Board (YSK).
“Do not leave the boxes!” he tweeted, telling supporters to stay with the count and not abandon hope.
During the day, there were also allegations of fraud and intimidation in the east and southeast in particular, where the majority of the country’s ethnic Kurds live.
In the eastern city of Erzurum, a shooting incident at a polling station reportedly left three dead, while in Suruc, in the southeast, there were several arrests after scuffles at the ballot boxes.
Ince had attracted many to his pre-election rallies, galvanizing the opposition, yet – if the unofficial results are correct – he failed to make sufficient headway to force a second-round ballot.
In the elections for parliament – held concurrently with the presidential vote – the AA results show that the AKP also emerged the largest party, although without a majority on its own.
The AKP is, however, in an alliance with the right-wing National Action Party (MHP), which did unexpectedly well to win 11.23% of the vote – twice what some opinion polls had predicted. This gives the AKP-MHP coalition, the People’s Alliance, a clear majority.
Meanwhile, the leftist People’s Democracy Party (HDP), supported largely by the country’s ethnic Kurdish population, did manage to pass a national 10% threshold to enter parliament, even though its co-leaders, Selahattin Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, are in jail.
While the latter has been sentenced, the former has been in prison awaiting trial since November 2016, charged under Turkey’s all-encompassing anti-terrorism laws.
Elsewhere, if the results are correct, the CHP won 22.64% of the parliamentary vote, which was less than in the previous election, despite more widespread support for its presidential candidate.
The CHP ran in a pact with the right-wing Iyi Party, led by Meral Aksener, which just passed the 10% threshold, and the pro-Islamist Saadet Party, which failed to do so.
Turkey thus voted for continuity, rewarding a man and a party that have presided over economic growth and what many supporters see as a restoration of Turkey’s pride and status.
Major infrastructure projects, along with military interventions in neighboring Syria, a tough line with Kurdish nationalists and a growth in Turkish influence around the region, have impressed many Turks, particularly those who recall previous governments.
“The 1990s, when the other lot were in power, we saw hyperinflation, corruption and a mess,” says Mesut Caner, who runs a corner store in the Istanbul district of Maltepe. “Now, just look around you.”
The Istanbul skyline has been dramatically changed in recent years, with skyscrapers and new districts, new bridges and metro links.
Yet those years have also been characterized by an increasing repression of dissenting voices. Almost all the country’s newspapers and TV channels are pro-government, and many journalists have also been put behind bars. The judiciary’s independence has also been largely curtailed, while the civil service has become dominated by AKP appointees.
Erdogan has also consolidated power within the party in his own hands, with those who originally co-founded the AKP all now out of politics.
As executive president, Erdogan now has much more power than before, too.
He can propose bills to parliament – where he will also have a majority, provided his alliance with the MHP holds – and issue executive orders. He also now has much wider powers of appointment in the judiciary and elsewhere.
He will, however, now face a major economic challenge in the months ahead – a factor widely considered behind his move to hold the election now, rather than at its scheduled time in November 2019.
“He has held the vote at a time when things are not as bad as they are going to become,” says Anthony Skinner, Director for the Middle East and North Africa at consultants Verisk Maplecroft.
Inflation, unemployment and currency volatility continue to be issues for the economy, with Erdogan’s economically unorthodox approach to them not seen as helpful by many investors.
The president has tried to pressure the central bank to hold down interest rates, even as the economy has been overheating, while also continuing to fire growth with massive infrastructure spending projects, such as a proposed canal linking the Black Sea with the Marmara, by-passing Istanbul.
“The budget due to be submitted by the president to parliament by October will give us a sense of how fiscal policy will develop over the coming years,” says Jason Tuvey, Senior Emerging Markets Economist with Capital Economics. “Looser fiscal policy would put debt on an upward trajectory, undermining one of the few-remaining strong pillars of the Turkish economy.”
Erdogan’s re-election will also likely see a continuation of a more forward Turkish foreign policy, with the president likely to back up interventions over the southern border in Syria and Iraq – popular moves with his MHP allies in particular.
He has also pursued a more interventionist policy in the Horn of Africa and in support of ally Qatar in its current dispute with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Bahrain.
“May God make these results beneficial for our country,” he declared in Istanbul Sunday night, praising the electorate for its turn out – around 90% voted – and warning, two years on from the failed 2016 coup attempt, that, “We will make sure the political system is free from lobbies and those who might try a coup d’etat.”
Now, the next few days will likely see Turkey’s opposition and government supporters pondering where Sunday’s vote will now take them.