(AP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned away a challenger who sought to reverse his authoritarian-leaning changes, securing five more years to oversee the country at the crossroads of Europe and Asia that plays a key role in NATO.
Erdogan prevailed by winning more than 52% of the vote in Sunday’s presidential runoff, which came two weeks after he fell short of scoring an outright victory in the first round. A majority of Turkish voters in the second round chose him over challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu, showing their support for a man who they see as a strong, proven leader.
Voters were divided between loyalty to Erdogan, who has ruled for two decades, and hopes for the opposition candidate, who promised to return to democratic norms, adopt more conventional economic policies and improve ties with the West.
With his immediate political future secure, Erdogan must now confront skyrocketing inflation that has fueled a cost-of-living crisis and rebuild in the aftermath of a devastating earthquake that killed more than 50,000 people.
In two speeches — one in Istanbul and one in Ankara — Erdogan thanked the nation for entrusting him with the presidency again.
“We hope to be worthy of your trust, as we have been for 21 years,” he told supporters on a campaign bus outside his home in Istanbul.
He said the divisions of the election are over, but he continued to rail against his opponent.
“The only winner today is Turkey,” Erdogan said outside the presidential palace in Ankara, promising to work hard for Turkey’s second century, which he called the “Turkish century.” The country marks its centennial this year.
Supreme challenges lie ahead, starting with the economy that has taken a beating from what critics view as Erdogan’s unorthodox policies. He also must tend to massive rebuilding efforts in 11 provinces hit by the Feb. 6 earthquake that leveled entire cities.
Kilicdaroglu said the election was “the most unjust ever,” with all state resources mobilized for Erdogan.
“We will continue to be at the forefront of this struggle until real democracy comes to our country,” he said in Ankara. He thanked the more than 25 million people who voted for him and asked them to “remain upright.”
The people have shown their will “to change an authoritarian government despite all the pressures,” Kilicdaroglu said.