With a victory in Turkey's presidential runoff, Erdogan cements his power
A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:
Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is set to continue his run as Turkey's longest-serving leader.
LEILA FADEL, HOST:
Amid high inflation and despite having faced widespread anger at his government's response to a devastating earthquake this year, Erdogan won Sunday's runoff with 52% of the vote.
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Istanbul to talk about this. Peter, Erdogan's showing in both rounds of this election surprised a lot of people, but not Erdogan and his supporters. So what did the president have to say about that last night?
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, he spoke at the presidential palace in Ankara, and he tried to shift to a more positive tone, saying, for instance, no one lost today. But after running a campaign filled with sharp rhetoric, he couldn't resist slipping in a reference to Kurdish militants that Turkey's been battling for decades, who he's been accusing the opposition of cooperating with. Erdogan made a point of mentioning their stronghold in Qandil in northern Iraq. Well, here's a bit of what he said.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
PRESIDENT RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN: (Speaking Turkish).
KENYON: Now besides attacking the Kurdish fighters, he's saying, "We love Turkey so much. How could this nation not be loved?" And now he also made multiple references to brotherly love, positive times ahead. But it was pretty clear that Erdogan has lost none of his combative leadership style. And throughout this campaign, Erdogan has continued to attract a loyal following that continues to back him despite the hardships of recent years. And hearing their leaders celebrate another victory, that was all music to the ears of his supporters.
MARTÍNEZ: The thing is, though, there are still millions of people homeless in an area that was struck by an earthquake. How did he do there?
KENYON: Well, he did quite well even there. Initial results show Erdogan ahead in nine of the 11 provinces most affected by the February earthquake that killed some 50,000 people. Comments from voters there suggest despite the fact that there's widespread anger at the government's sluggish response to the earthquake and its role in allowing contractors to build unsafe buildings in an earthquake area in the first place, they still thought Erdogan was a better bet to reconstruct the region and get people back into homes.
MARTÍNEZ: Is there a sense at all, Peter, that the opposition maybe chose the wrong candidate to send up against Erdogan?
KENYON: There will, of course, be debate along those lines. It's already started. A coalition of six parties settled on 74-year-old Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of the main secular party, as their candidate. He has an impeccable reputation for honesty, never linked to a political scandal. But there has also been a sense for years that Kilicdaroglu never quite had the charisma, the political appeal to defeat Erdogan and his ruling party. These days, the opposition mayors of both Istanbul and Ankara are seen as more popular, stronger candidates. And there's been some grumbling that Kilicdaroglu's insistence that it was his turn to run cost the opposition what might have been its best chance to unseat Erdogan.
MARTÍNEZ: Now, I know congratulations for Erdogan are pouring in from capitals around the world. What are people saying about what maybe another five years of Erdogan's leadership might mean for Turkey's relations with the rest of the world?
KENYON: That is a big topic, and that'll be playing out for some time. Some people are hoping with this victory, Erdogan might consider returning to the reformist ways he started out with earlier in his tenure. But others point out after failing to get Turkey admitted to the European Union years ago, Erdogan has been looking to the east. He's developed strong ties with Russia. That concerns Washington and others. One question now is will Erdogan press forward with a more eastward-looking foreign policy? And if so, what'll that mean for Turkey's long-standing role as a solid NATO ally in this dangerous neighborhood?
MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul.
KENYON: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.