CHP politician vows to continue fighting one-man rule in opposition during Ankara speech
Kareem Shaheen in Istanbul
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s main challenger in Sunday’s elections, Muharrem İnce, has conceded defeat, urging the re-elected Turkish president to embrace all the country’s 81 million citizens and vowing to continue the fight against one-man rule in opposition.
İnce’s concession speech in Ankara came after Turkey’s supreme election board confirmed the results, with Erdoğan winning with an outright majority in the first round, on 52.6% of the vote with 99% of ballots counted.
İnce came in second place with 30.64% of the vote – an impressive challenge but not enough to force a second-round runoff.
“I accept the election results,” İnce said at a press conference at his party’s headquarters, adding that despite some votes being stolen, the overall result was not in question.
“We will live the consequences of having one-man rule in the legislature, judiciary and government. I will keep up the fight as someone who got the approval of one person among every three in Turkey.”
Turkish voters re-elected Erdoğan to another term in office on Sunday in elections whose outcome is likely to shape the country for years or even decades to come.
The president, who has already ruled Turkey unopposed for 16 years, will be sworn in to another five years in power, leading up to the centennial of the modern republic’s founding from the ashes of the Ottoman empire.
Erdoğan will assume vast new powers narrowly approved in a referendum last year, including the power to appoint senior judges and unelected vice presidents, and to pass decrees with the force of law.
He will face few checks on his power from a diminished parliament where the majority is a coalition that includes his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) party and the Nationalist Action Party (MHP), who performed surprisingly well, doubling their expected share of ballots.
What happened in the Turkish referendum and why does it matter?
The outcome of the vote is the culmination of years of Erdoğan’s pursuit of an executive presidency, a goal that has seen the Turkish leader ascend the highest echelons of power in the country while simultaneously crushing opponents, intimidating or co-opting dissident media outlets, and reprising a role as commander-in-chief protecting Turkey from external and internal enemies.
Erdoğan struck a defiant tone in his victory speech early on Monday in Ankara, saying Turkey had set “an example” for the rest of the world, vowing to carry on military campaigns in Syria, fight terror groups and raise Turkey’s international prestige.
“We have received the message that has been given to us in the ballot boxes,” he said. “We will fight even more with the strength you provided us with this election.”
İnce, a former physics teacher, ran a dynamic campaign that energised an opposition movement that had struggled to find charismatic leaders to represent them.
He campaigned on a platform to reverse the presidential system and return Turkey to parliamentary democracy, end the ongoing state of emergency, stop prosecutions of journalists and civil society members, restore the rule of law and send Syrian refugees back home to their country.
He had sought to appeal to Erdoğan’s conservative base by emphasising his own religious credentials and vowing that the country’s secularists, if elected, would not discriminate against religious countrymen. His rallies in the major Turkish cities drew crowds of hundreds of thousands of supporters, culminating in one attended by at least one million people in Istanbul on Saturday.
But in the end, İnce’s appeals led to a performance that showed he was more popular than his own party, the CHP, but was not enough to force a second-round runoff with Erdoğan. Polls showed İnce would likely lose such a race, but the prospect was seen as representing a major setback for the incumbent.
İnce now appears a powerful enough figure to wrest control of the CHP in the wake of the race. He said his party made mistakes in the elections but declined to elaborate on them or say whether he would assume a role within it.
He also denied rumours that had spread on social media overnight that he had been threatened into conceding the vote, due to the fact that he was not seen publicly for hours after polls closed on Sunday.
The state-run Anadolu Agency said Russian president Vladimir Putin called to offer congratulations and praised Erdoğan’s “authority.” Iranian president Hassan Rouhani also congratulated Erdoğan in a statement, saying he hoped ties with Ankara would thrive.
Reaction from Turkey’s western allies was muted. Only Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s Secretary General, congratulated Erdoğan and Turkish citizens on the high turnout. Ties with the EU have been strained for years over lack of advancement on Turkey’s EU accession talks and the worsening rights situation in Turkey.