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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 23 July 2018

Streets come alive as Erdogan supporters celebrate thumping victory

Istanbul had a festival spirit as thousands came out in jubilation after AKP cruised to triumph

The streets are packed with a sea of red Turkish flags, in every corner there are people chanting, singing and dancing. Cars honk their horns, their speakers blasting the pulsing campaign songs with the distinctive chorus of "Receeep Tayyyip Erdogan".

The Turkish president declared victory a few hours earlier in a hotly contested election that is still dogged by controversy, even as supporters of his AKP party jubilantly fill the streets.

The crowd of revellers stretches for miles along the boulevard of Istanbul’s Golden Horn Park. Mohamed Yilmiz, a 25-year-old barber, came with his girlfriend and brother to celebrate. “Everyone knew this moment was coming and it feels like a festival,” he says.

Later he holds up a flare, chanting “Erdogan” over and over again, with a wide smile on his face. “I don’t think anyone else can run the country,” he says, “We trust in him because he’s the only one looking out for [Turkey] against foreign nations.”

 AKP supporters celebrate on Tarlabasi Boulevard. Shawn Carrie
AKP supporters celebrate on Tarlabasi Boulevard. Shawn Carrie

AKP supporters are riding high on a victory as Turkey’s official Anadolu new agency declared that Mr Erdogan won the presidency with 52.7 per cent of the vote, while its largest challenger CHP still says it’s too early to know the results.

Inside the AKP headquarters, Sare Yilmaz, an MP, seems tired but satisfied.

“An hour ago, Erdogan announced he is the president of Turkey – he is the first president after this new system of Turkish government,” she says in reference to a controversial referendum that turned Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system.

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The changes gave the presidency sweeping powers that many observers believe could be ripe for abuse. Following an attempted coup in 2016, the future-president has already presided over the arrest of tens of thousands of Turks in a purge that he claimed was necessary to fight terrorism.

When asked about the opposition contesting the election results, she dismisses it out of hand. “Some ballots may be investigated, that’s normal,” she says with a shrug.

“Fifty-two per cent is a very clear result to remain president for the next five years,” Ms Yilamz says.

On the other side of town at CHP Headquarters in Sishane, party members sulked in their chairs as they gathered around a television to watch the results roll in. But some members of the opposition were pleased with the results.

Fifteen minutes from the CHP headquarters in the Kurdish-majority Tarlabasi neighbourhood, HDP supporters filled the street celebrating their party’s entrance into parliament. People ran up and down the steep streets chanting “HDP is the people, the people are here” and “Freedom for Dermitas”. Selahattin Demirtas, who leads the HDP, had to run for the presidency from prison.

But not every Kurdish person in Turkey supports the HDP. The second highest number of Kurdish votes go to the AKP.

“HDP is not a political party, it’s a terrorist party – they're nothing more than the PKK,” says Asli Keles, a 37-year-old teacher. She came out to celebrate Mr Erdogan’s victory with her sister Esra Keles, 35, who agrees unequivocally.

“We never used to say openly that we were Kurdish, until Erdogan came to power. Today, you can turn on the radio and hear Kurdish songs, there are Kurdish television channels – he did all this. He remembered the people, he raised salaries and our standard of living.”

Back outside the AKP headquarters, people still cheer, shouting Erdogan’s name over and over, holding flags with his face on them, and standing in front of campaign trucks bearing the omnipresent image of him staring to the horizon. Ms Yilmaz sums up the feeling succinctly. “It’s a victory for Turkish people, it’s a victory for the Justice and Development Party, but more than that, it’s a victory for Recep Tayyip Erdogan,” she says.