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Turkey's Erdogan secures a victory in Sunday's historic runoff election

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has won a third five-year term in a runoff election. The incumbent, who has dominated Turkish politics for 20 years, defeated his main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, by four points. Joining me to discuss what Erdogan's win means for Turkey and its relations with fellow NATO countries is Asli Aydintasbas. She's a Turkey analyst and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Good morning.

ASLI AYDINTASBAS: Good morning.

FADEL: So this was Erdogan's biggest challenge to power so far. But despite an economy in shambles, criticism over how his government dealt with these devastating earthquakes, and the concern around his anti-democratic practices, like suppressing dissent, he won the vote. What makes him so popular?

AYDINTASBAS: Well, President Erdogan is a good campaigner. There's no doubt about that. He's a vicious campaigner in the sense that this campaign has been marked by attack ads and accusations and AI-generated footage of the opposition leader as if he is with terrorist PKK, and so on. But it is also the case that large segments of society, particularly in conservative heartland, identify with Erdogan. They could not connect with the opposition's message of democracy and rule of law. Instead, Erdogan's idea - very strong message about a rising Turkey, a new power, a country that's destined to be a global power in the 21st century - in fact, he called his campaign the Century of Turkey - resonated with the conservative heartland. There is also, you know, other issues. But I think that at the heart of it, Erdogan, in the end, sold a very appealing idea, which was to make Turkey great again.

FADEL: What would a third decade of Erdogan mean for Turkey?

AYDINTASBAS: It's not clear. Probably much of the same. I think that people who voted for opposition and want a change from different walks of life are disappointed. They're disappointed on - because it will mean continuation of Erdogan's economic policies. Some of his unorthodox or, for lack of a better word, eccentric ideas on economy and interest rates and whatnot would continue. And, of course, people who are seeking greater freedoms - hoping to come out of jail, hoping that they could live in a country with free speech and perhaps free media - are also disappointed.

FADEL: Now, Erdogan has said he has a special relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Turkey is a key NATO member. What does Erdogan's reelection mean for Turkey's relationship with Western countries and fellow NATO members going forward?

AYDINTASBAS: The president has grown closer to Vladimir Putin for a number of reasons. Part of it is dependency and economic dependency. And in part, it's also because the two leaders share a worldview and a disdain for liberal world order. That said, I think Erdogan is trying to play a balancing act of sorts between the West and Russia. But the Western leg of that table is missing. He's had very poor relations with the Biden administration, with European leaders. So from this point on, I think he'll be looking to see if there could be a reset with the West, with Europe and United States. But I think he would - the election results mean that he would want it on his own terms.

FADEL: Asli Aydintasbas is a Turkey analyst and a visiting fellow at Brookings Institution. Thanks for being here.

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