Live updates Turkey elections closed as Erdogan faces tough re election

Live updates: Turkey elections closed as Erdogan faces tough re-election campaign – The New York Times

In December 2002, President George W. Bush welcomed to the White House an up-and-coming politician from Turkey whose newly formed party had just won a surprising majority in parliament.

“Welcome to the home of one of your country’s best friends and allies,” Mr Bush told politician Recep Tayyip Erdogan. “You are a strategic ally and friend of the United States.”

Two months later, Mr. Erdogan became prime minister, propelling him to the top of Turkey’s political system and beginning his two-decade tenure as his country’s most powerful figure.

Turkey’s elections on Sunday are in many ways a referendum on the dramatic changes Mr Erdogan has brought about in 11 years as prime minister and nine years as president. Once a new political force that promised to root out corruption, expand the economy and strengthen ties with the West, he is now a near-omnipotent leader who has been blamed for Turkey’s declining currency and criticized for to undermine democracy.

Mr Erdogan, 69, grew up poor in a troubled neighborhood in Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city, where his father was a ferry captain. He studied at Islamic schools normally reserved for future clergymen, but then went into politics and in 1994 won a four-year term as mayor of Istanbul. Residents credited him with cleaning up the old, chaotic metropolis.

In 1997 he was removed from office and sentenced to 10 months in prison for inciting violence after reciting an Islamist poem at a rally. In the end, he only served four months but received a lengthy political ban.

When his Justice and Development Party, which he helped found, won its unexpected parliamentary majority in 2002, it was the strongest showing ever by an Islamist political group in Turkey’s strictly secular political system. The next year, Mr Erdogan’s political ban ended and he became prime minister.

For about a decade, he and his party kept their promises of good governance and economic growth. Turkey’s gross domestic product has more than tripled, lifting millions out of poverty. New airports, hospitals, highways and bridges have been built across the country.

Internationally, Erdogan has been praised as an Islamist and pro-business democrat who could serve as a bridge between the West and the Muslim world.

But there were challenges. In 2013, protests against an Erdogan-backed construction project on the site of an Istanbul park escalated into mass anti-government demonstrations. Fearing instability, some foreign investors began withdrawing their capital.

In a 2013 clash with police in Istanbul, anti-government protesters shouted slogans. Photo credit: Ed Ou for The New York Times

In 2016, two years after taking office as president, Erdogan survived an attempted coup that also failed to kidnap him from a seaside resort. He responded by further centralizing power and sidelined critics – purging tens of thousands from the judiciary and state bureaucracy, replacing many of them with loyalists who curtailed civil liberties and increased his influence over the news media.

In 2017, he pushed for a constitutional referendum that would end Turkey’s parliamentary system and transfer much of the power of the state to the president, that is, to him.

All along, he and his party remained impressive at the ballot box, using their electoral mandate to promote religiously conservative sentiment. Mr Erdogan expanded Islamic education and relaxed regulations to ensure a secular state, including lifting the headscarf ban for women in government positions.

Many of his constituents, who were more rural, devout, working-class, saw him as their defender against a secular elite they felt was degraded to them.

But Mr Erdogan’s honeymoon in the West, particularly in the United States, did not last. He accused Washington of complicity in the coup attempt because the cleric he accused of plotting the conspiracy lives in Pennsylvania, an accusation the cleric denies.

After Mr Bush, Presidents Obama and Trump both welcomed Mr Erdogan to the White House, but not President Biden. And on Saturday, the final day of the election campaign, Mr Erdogan accused Mr Biden of colluding with Turkey’s political opposition to oust him.