Re-elected President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will embark on his new five-year term in office exactly 100 years since the establishment of the Republic of Turkey. Yet despite the upsurge in unity that such an occasion might be expected to arouse, Turkey has never been so polarised during his two decades as the country’s leader as it is now.
The stark division was confirmed by the official Sunday May 28 presidential run-off result – 52.16% for Erdogan and 47.84% for opposition bloc candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu.
Erdogan also starts his new chapter of power with the Turkish economy groaning under the sheer weight of its ills – as first post-election trading got under way, in East Asia, on May 29, the Turkish lira was threatening to drop to a new record low against the dollar, beyond the 20/$ threshold it ended at on May 26 prior to the election weekend.
Giving his late-night victory speech at the presidential palace in Ankara, before tens of thousands of adoring supporters, Erdogan drew on historical glories to underline his new ambitions for what he said would be the commencement of “the century of Turkey”.
Monday, he told the crowd, would bring the 570th anniversary of the conquest of Istanbul by the Ottoman Empire, adding: "That was a turning point in history, it closed a century and opened a new one. I hope this election will be such a turning point in history.”
“Now it’s time to work," he declared to his supporters. "Our priority will be to rebuild the cities that collapsed in the earthquakes of 6th of February, and help people find better lives."
Despite confounding the pundits and pollsters with his election win, Erdogan was not in a generous mood when it came to his foes. For instance, he showed no sign that he will offer any post-election clemency to jailed former leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party Selahattin Demirtas.
Criticising Kilicdaroglu for having allegedly promised to free “the terrorist” Demirtas, Erdogan said: “Under our rule, such a thing will never happen."
Demirtas, in jail since 2016 despite European human rights court rulings handed to Turkey that he should be freed immediately as the charges against him do not stack up and are politically motivated, released tweeted responses to the election outcome. He congratulated opposition supporters for managing to get as many votes as they did despite being up against “a huge operational force that has taken over the state”.
Urging his supporters to “keep fighting”, Demirtas added that the election was “full of inequalities, oppression, incredible lies, slander and smears”.
Turkey could now face a new brain drain given how many young Turks are not enamoured of Erdogan’s authoritarian state, cult of personality and uncompromising identity politics. The fact that Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted AKP ruling party find themselves so firmly back at the helm, with conservative society across swathes of the country apparently not persuaded to vote for change despite a torrid and longstanding economic crisis, will discourage much of urban Turkey that wanted a return to the secular traditions of Kilicdaroglu’s CHP.
In his speech following the official declaration of Erdogan as the election winner, Kilicdaroglu said he felt a “real sadness” over what the country was set to go through.
The election showed the Turkish people’s will to change an authoritarian government despite all the pressures, said Kilicdaroglu, adding that the struggle for true democracy must go on.
The election process, he said, was the most unfair seen in Turkey for years, adding: “All the means of the state were mobilised for one political party and laid at the feet of one man.”