See more of the story

Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


In an election many believe was free but not fair, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan secured another term in Sunday's runoff, extending his rule, which is now entering its third decade, for another five years.

Deploying a combination of factors, including a highly restrictive media environment and seemingly unrestricted spending, Erdogan procured 52.1% of the vote vs. 47.9% for Kemal Kilicdaroglu, an uncharismatic technocrat who emerged as the consensus candidate for usually fractious opposition parties.

The close electoral scrape was tough enough for Erdogan, but now comes an even tougher task: solving Turkey's myriad problems, including those the Turkish president may have in part caused himself. That includes a sclerotic economy buffeted by inflation that soared above 80% last year and remains at a punishing 44% level.

And the pricing pressure is expected to increase because of promises made to rebuild from this year's devastating earthquake, but this time without the allegedly corrupt construction practices that likely contributed to the death toll, which has topped 50,000. Pledges of pay raises for many public-sector workers made in the context of the campaign will need to be delivered upon, too.

Other domestic challenges involve international issues, including calls from some Turks to repatriate many of the nearly 4 million Syrians who sought refuge from the homicidal Assad regime in Damascus, as well as take another look at the deal Turkey cut with the European Union to house other asylum-seekers and refugees.

Disenchantment with Erdogan's ever-increasing authoritarianism isn't limited to the nearly half of the voting population who sought to replace him. Western allies have been exasperated, too, especially given his relatively close economic and even political association with the Kremlin. Turkey, for instance, has refused to impose sanctions regarding Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine, though it has sold some weapons to Kyiv.

Although Erdogan's policies on Russia have enabled him to help broker deals to allow essential grain shipments to continue, Turkey's blocking of Sweden's ascension into NATO has vexed the West, which has been unusually united in response to Russian aggression.

Now that the election is passed, many European capitals, as well as Washington and Ottawa, hope that Erdogan will soften his opposition, which has been based on his perception of Sweden granting asylum to Kurds Erdogan considers terrorists. As incentive, a deal to sell Turkey F-16 fighter jets, since stalled by Congress, may move forward if Turkey relents, ideally in time for the annual summit of NATO nations in July.

Turkey's geographic and geopolitical significance has been recognized since the Truman Doctrine "not because it was a thriving democracy — it wasn't — but because it was important for our interests in that part of the world, and it remains important," Ross Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and current board chair for Global Minnesota, told an editorial writer.

For two decades, Erdogan has "sought to carve out a more independent role and a more prominent role for his country in regional and to some extent, global affairs," Wilson said, while noting the importance of Incirlik Air Base to U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. However repressive, Wilson added, Turkey is "the largest Muslim-majority democracy in the broader Middle East."

On balance, Wilson said, Erdogan's re-election means that "Turkey will remain what it was: a somewhat authoritarian, somewhat difficult ally, in a part of the world that matters deeply to the United States."

That status calls for Washington to engage with, and not isolate, Ankara. But in doing so, the Biden administration should project its values and be resolute in insisting that Turkey work to improve its human-rights record, including media freedoms, and to coordinate more cohesively with its allies — including, hopefully soon, Sweden.