Erdogan survived the biggest test of his political career. What’s next?

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By Nadeen Ebrahim, CNN

(CNN) — President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday came up as the winner of the country’s presidential election, proving resilient against the opposition bloc as he extends his rule into a third decade.

Official results were shown Erdogan won with 52.1% of the vote, while opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu came away with 47.9%.

In spite of deadly earthquake already the fall of the local currency, Erdogan’s victory once again demonstrated the leader’s durability, which analysts say is rooted not only in the ways he has consolidated power over the years, but also shows the enduring loyalty of his core support.

“Considering the attrition that comes with 20 years of power, this is an important achievement. It also means the failure of the opposition bloc,” said Can Acun, a researcher at the Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research ( SETA), a pro-government think tank in Ankara.

The opposition warns of “tough days ahead”

As preliminary results showed Erdogan in the lead, the leader already began to celebrate his triumph as Kilicdaroglu warned of “tough days ahead”.

Analysts say Erdogan’s margin of victory may be a deciding factor in how he decides to move forward.

The leader won by “neither a landslide nor a narrow margin,” said Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, who says that will likely mean business as usual.

In the Turkish context, he said, that means Erdogan is likely to double down on his unorthodox economic policies and a continued crackdown on the opposition, especially as he will seek to regain popularity in Istanbul and Ankara, two crucial cities he lost to the opposition.

Murat Somer, a professor of political science at Istanbul’s Koc University, expects a tougher approach from Erdogan toward the opposition and its critics.

“[Erdogan is] He’s likely to continue with his unorthodox economic policies because they really serve his interests,” Somer told CNN. “But he’s going to have to combine them with some orthodox measures to solve the currency crisis.”

The Turkish president has previously called himself the “enemy of interest rates”, which he sees as the cause of inflation.

The Turkish lira sank to record lows on Sunday as Erdogan claimed victory, hitting 20.05 to the dollar, close to its all-time low of 20.06 on Friday. Reuters reported.

Somer also warned of the consequences of Erdogan’s victory, saying it may embolden other leaders around the world who undermine democracy.

“The populist autocrat who broke all democratic rules and norms during the campaign won and the opposition that came together to rebuild democracy lost,” he said.

Korhan Kocak, an assistant professor of political science at New York University Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, worries about Erdogan’s moves after the election.

“For more than ten years, Erdogan has made it clear that he has a majoritarian sense of democracy: those who do not belong, in his opinion, to the ‘virtuous’ majority have no right to speak or be considered,” Kocak told CNN.

Others who have been at the forefront of Erdogan’s political crackdown have also expressed concern.

Speaking to CNN before the election results were announced, Ceylan Akca, a Diyarbakir parliamentarian from the Green Left Party, under which the candidates of the Democratic Party of the pro-Kurdish People (HDP) are running, he expressed fear for his party if Erdogan wins.

The HDP had been struggling to survive long before Erdogan’s victory on Sunday.

Akca said that if Erdogan wins, it is very likely that he will intensify his crackdown on the HDP and the Kurdish community.

It remains to be seen how Erdogan will handle the opposition, but Acun said “Erdogan has always been a pragmatic leader, not one driven by revenge.”

The strongman is likely to focus on the economy, he added, but the fight against what he called terrorism “may intensify.”

Deep polarization

Analysts say the election results of the two rounds prove those of the country increasing polarization.

“Turkey has been a deeply polarized society for at least the last 40 years or so, and getting more so,” said Judd King, a senior assistant professor at American University in Washington, DC. “Ultra-secularists would never in their life consider voting for Erdogan, just as anti-secularists would never vote for the secular party.”

And while many of Erdogan’s critics are hurt, others saw no viable option but the president.

Over the years, Erdogan has earned the loyalty of the country’s conservatives, especially in the early days of his rule, King said.

His support base is diverse, he said, adding that he is generally sympathetic to religion but ideologically ranges from nationalists to those actively opposed to secularism.

Many of Erdogan’s supporters were happy with his early successes, especially those that gave religious rights and freedoms to the country’s Muslim majority.

The Turkey that Erdogan inherited in 2003 adopted a stricter form of secularism than most Western states. The role of religion in public was minimized, with the Islamic headscarf for women banned from universities, government institutions and parliament. Therefore, religious women seeking higher education had to give up the hijab or go to university abroad.

Upon taking power, Erdogan gradually lifted these restrictions. Although he did not challenge the country’s constitutionally enshrined secularism, religion began to play a larger role in public, as did his own rhetoric.

His moves toward an official acceptance of the religion were seen as a restoration of dignity to Turkey’s conservatives and won him a large base of unreserved support.

Even those who didn’t see Erdogan’s appeal at first, King said, “really came to value him” as he earned loyalty through “years and years of providing all these services.”

The election results may also be a blow to Western allies who had hoped that a post-Erdogan era would return Turkey to its traditional allies in the West, especially amid the president’s friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

King said that despite his disagreements with the West, Erdogan’s recent foreign policy moves may have given Turkey a kind of independence that many of his supporters appreciate.

“For these voters, they feel that there is recognition for their country that was long overdue and that seemed like it wouldn’t be possible. And Erdogan is the man who delivered them.”

Cagaptay said Erdogan’s foreign policy is unlikely to change.

“[Erdogan’s] “Transactional foreign policy, where Russia pits the US against each other to get what it wants,” is likely to continue, he said.

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