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Erdogan wins Turkey's presidential runoff election


Let's head now to Turkey, where President Erdogan has won his third term in a historic runoff election today. Now, Erdogan has led the country for two decades and has raised alarms as he consolidated power over the courts, the media and arrested his critics. But there were signs he might face a stiff challenge in an election that also has implications beyond Turkey. The near final vote count has him ahead with a 52% to 48% lead over his challenger. To tell us more, we're joined by NPR's Fatma Tanis, who's reporting from Istanbul. Welcome.


DEGGANS: So first, how did Erdogan pull this off? I mean, it looked like he had a lot stacked against him. How'd he wind out with a victory?

TANIS: That's right. The economy here is in really bad shape, and many blame Erdogan for it, as well as the mismanaged response to the devastating earthquakes that happened in early February. But, you know, Erdogan ran a divisive campaign where he tapped into populism and religious nationalist rhetoric. He accused his opponents of being linked to Kurdish militants who are seen here as terrorists. He promised that he would make Turkey a global power, and in the end, he convinced some people who are on the fence that even if things were bad, he would be the one to fix them and not his opponent.

DEGGANS: So has there been reaction already? What are people saying?

TANIS: Well, several members of the opposition have congratulated Erdogan for his win. Erdogan's main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu gave a speech this evening thanking supporters and promised to continue working for democracy. Meanwhile, Erdogan's supporters have taken to the streets. They're honking and waving flags, even in the earthquake zone. You know, you see videos of people celebrating with a backdrop of rubble behind them. And, you know, Eric, one thing to note is that Erdogan came into office two decades ago as a champion of people who felt neglected by previous governments - working-class people and religious conservatives - and they still see him as someone who looks after them. Meanwhile, those who voted against him are deeply disappointed and say they're concerned for their future.

DEGGANS: So Turkey's relations with the West have been contentious under Erdogan, even though the country is a large and important member of NATO. Are there signs how that relationship might change now?

TANIS: Well, we'll probably continue to see Turkey walking a fine line. Erdogan tends to conduct a transactional foreign policy. He will likely maintain his ties with Russia's Vladimir Putin while continuing to supply weapons to Ukraine, for example. And analysts say he may eventually approve Sweden's membership to NATO, which is really important to the West in order to counter Russia. That would be in exchange for F-16 fighter planes that Turkey wants from the United States. But, you know, it's hard for any Turkish politician to really appear to be close with the West. People here are sensitive to making sure their country isn't controlled by foreign powers.

DEGGANS: Well, Erdogan was widely seen as weakening Turkish democracy in recent years. Are there concerns that he'll continue to do that over the next five years?

TANIS: Yes, there are definitely concerns that democratic freedoms will continue to shrink under Erdogan, who's already known to be jailing opponents. And the election was not really seen as a level playing field. Erdogan monopolized the media, and during the campaign, while he was president - present on TV regularly campaigning, it was hard for his opponents to get airtime, and even their campaign text messages were blocked. But, Eric, on the other hand, turnout for the vote was really high, and people are - here are determined to keep democracy and Turkey alive no matter the outcome.

DEGGANS: Well, that's NPR's Fatma Tanis in Istanbul. Thanks a lot.

TANIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.