By SUZAN FRASER
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for the past 15 years, will extend his rule and take on sweeping new powers after his victory in the country’s landmark presidential and parliamentary elections. Turkey’s High Electoral Board on Monday declared Erdogan the winner of Sunday’s dual votes, which usher in a new system in which the prime minister’s post is eliminated and executive powers are transferred to the president, who rules with only limited checks and balances.
The Turkish leader is accused by critics of adopting increasingly authoritarian tactics but is loved by supporters for bringing prosperity and stability to the country that lies at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Erdogan may be facing rough times ahead, however, because analysts predict an economic downturn for Turkey amid rising inflation and the struggling lira currency. His win could also deepen Turkey’s rift with its Western and NATO allies, who are already concerned by the country’s setbacks in democracy and human rights as well as Turkey’s closer ties with Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin sent Erdogan a congratulatory telegram on Monday, one of the first world leaders to do so. In his victory speech, Erdogan said he would work toward achieving his goal of making Turkey one of the world’s top 10 economies by 2023, when the Turkish Republic marks its centenary. He also pledged a more “determined” fight against outlawed Kurdish rebels and alleged members of a movement led by U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom he accuses of orchestrating a 2016 failed coup against his government. Gulen denies involvement.
Erdogan’s government imposed a state of emergency after the coup that is still in place. It has arrested some 50,000 people and fired than 110,000 civil servants in a massive crackdown under the state of emergency that critics say is aiming at stifling dissent.
“Turkey made its choice in favor of a more determined fight against the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party) and (Gulenists),” Erdogan said. “We will go after terror organizations with stronger determination.” Under the new system, Erdogan himself will appoint ministers, vice presidents and high-level bureaucrats, issue decrees, prepare the budget and decide on security policies.
According to unofficial results that have yet to be confirmed by the electoral board, Erdogan garnered 52.5 percent of the presidential vote, while his ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, won 42.5 percent of the parliamentary vote. Erdogan’s closest contender, Muharrem Ince of the secular opposition Republican People’s Party, won 30.7 percent support. Erdogan’s AKP fell short of winning a parliamentary majority but a better-than-expected performance by its nationalist ally should allow the party to control the 600-seat legislature.
Official voting results will be announced on July 5. International observers criticized the election Monday, saying it took place on “uneven playing field” tilted in favor of Erdogan and his ruling party, which “enjoyed undue advantage, including in media.” Some observers were obstructed in their mission, they said. “There is some work to be done by the authorities to ensure that future elections in Turkey are in line with democratic standards and commitments,” said Audrey Glover, who headed a delegation from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Monitors did praise the high turnout in the Turkish vote, which was reported to be over 87 percent by the state-run Anadolu Agency. Ince also complained that it was an unfair election but accepted Erdogan’s victory during a news conference Monday. The former physics teacher, who led a robust campaign against Erdogan, called on him to end his divisive policies. “Be the president of 81 million (Turks), embrace everyone,” he said. “That’s what I would have done if I had won.” Still, the 54-year-old politician criticized Turkey’s new executive presidential system.
“Turkey has cut off its ties with democratic values … (it) has transitioned to a one-man regime in the fullest sense,” he said. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, whose presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas was forced to campaign from jail, received the more than 10 percent of the vote Sunday, enough to win seats in parliament. In reaction, thousands of its supporters spilled into the streets in celebration. In a series of Twitter postings, Demirtas praised the party’s success in winning a projected 67 seats out of 600, according to unofficial results.
“The fact that I was forced to campaign in detention conditions was the greatest injustice,” Demirtas said. “While other candidates could stage 100 campaign rallies, I was able to send out 100 tweets.” Demirtas, who won 8.4 percent in the presidential race, has been in pre-trial detention since November 2016 on terror-related charges. He denies any wrongdoing.
Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said Monday it was now up to Erdogan to decide whether Turkey’s relations with the European Union will improve. Margot Wallstrom, Sweden’s foreign minister, said Turkey’s democracy had shortcomings — she cited opposition leaders sitting in jail — but said Erdogan should be given the chance to fix that. “We are hoping for the end of the state of emergency (in Turkey),” she told reporters in Brussels.