Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan now faces the biggest electoral challenge of his two-decade reign as Turkey heads to the polls on 14 May.
With polls showing an increase in favour for the opposition’s joint presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu after Muharrem İnce, the opposition contender for the Turkish presidential elections, withdrew his candidacy on Wednesday, accusations have been raised from the ruling bloc about foreign interference in the elections. Meanwhile, the opposition leader warns Russia about spreading conspiracies and deep fakes.
With the election just days away, tensions are high in Turkey, and many fear that violence could erupt if the results are contested. The international community will be closely watching the situation, with concerns mounting about the future of democracy in Turkey.
*Updated at 7:31 pm (CET)
CHP warns Turkish authorities not to restrict access to communication channels on election day
Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has announced measures to ensure a fair and transparent election process ahead of the country’s presidential election.
Speaking at a press conference, CHP Deputy Chairpersons Oğuz Kaan Salıcı, Muharrem Erkek, and Onursal Adıgüzel warned that any attempt to restrict access to communication channels, such as internet or phone networks, on election night would be considered a coup attempt.
“We urge everyone to be vigilant and to use their common sense,” said Salıcı. “We will be monitoring the election closely and will provide regular updates to the public. We are not in a competition with the state-run Anadolu Agency. Our focus is on providing accurate and truthful results.”
Erkek accused the ruling party of attempting to undermine the democratic process, stating that “the election climate is being polluted.” He revealed that over 500,000 responsible individuals have been appointed to oversee the elections.
Threatening election message from Erdoğan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has referenced the 2016 attempted coup in his latest tweet, just two days before the country’s elections. As the opposition gains ground in the polls, Erdoğan has intensified his rhetoric, invoking the memory of the night of the failed coup. Referring to the events of 15 July 2016, he tweeted, “We will fight to protect our independence and future, even if it costs our lives.”
Bizim sevgimiz de mücadelemiz de aziz milletimiz içindir. Biz kendi adımıza kimseyle kavga etmeyiz, milletimiz söz konusu olduğunda da kimseyi tanımayız.
Canımızı dişimize takarak, sevdalısı olduğumuz milletimiz için koşturmayı görev biliriz.… pic.twitter.com/ZimhlkLQDy
— Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (@RTErdogan) May 12, 2023
His tweet comes amid mounting controversy surrounding the elections, with Turkey’s Interior Minister, Süleyman Soylu, calling them a “political coup attempt” by the West. Soylu’s comments have sparked widespread criticism, with many questioning the fairness of the upcoming vote.
Erdoğan’s tweet appears to be an attempt to rally his supporters, many of whom still hold him in high regard for his handling of the coup attempt. However, his comments are also likely to be seen as a thinly veiled threat to the opposition, who have accused him of authoritarianism and clamping down on free speech.
Main opposition ready for polls
The leaders of the six political parties in Turkey’s main opposition bloc, the Nation Alliance, released a joint statement assuring the public that they are ready for the elections and that every vote will be counted. They also stressed that they were working to ensure the security of the elections and that there was no need for concern. The statement reaffirmed their commitment to building a more democratic and just society in Turkey.
“With great faith, determination and peace of mind, we would like to say that we are ready with all our staff for the presidential and 28th parliamentary general elections on 14 May 2023 that will bring spring to our country,” the leaders said.
Repercussions of İnce’s withdrawal from candidacy
With the withdrawal of presidential candidate Muharrem İnce on Wednesday, the likelihood of Kılıçdaroğlu winning the election in the first round has increased according to the polls, while the repercussions of the event continue on the political scene.
While the opposition blames Russia, the ruling party blames the United States and the opposition.
Earlier on Thursday, the Ankara public prosecutor’s office said it opened an investigation after a sex tape allegedly showing İnce surfaced on social media. İnce’s move to step down came after he denied the tape allegations.
– Interior minister accuses US of interfering in Turkish polls
Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu accused the United States of interfering in Sunday’s elections. Soylu claimed that the US was behind the withdrawal of İnce from the presidential candidacy.
Soylu, who participated in a live broadcast, said, “America has been interfering in this election from the very beginning. [US President Joe] Biden said that we could not do it with a coup in 2016, this time we will do it with an election, not a coup. The basic logic is that İnce used to be the candidate of the CHP, if we withdraw him, we will get the votes that went to him.”
Soylu argued that İnce was attacked during the pre-election period and the attack came from outside of Turkey. “It is clear who produced it,” he said. “The perpetrator is FETÖ* and the USA.”
In a speech at his Ankara rally, President Erdoğan also blamed FETÖ along with Kılıçdaroğlu for Ince’s withdrawal from the candidacy. Erdoğan said, “Their job is to swindle,” and added, “It seems that FETÖ methods are at work again.”
– Kılıçdaroğu to Russia: “Get your hands off Turkey”
The Nation Alliance presidential candidate Kılıçdaroğlu accused Russia of interfering in Turkey’s elections in a post on Twitter yesterday.
“Dear Russian friends, you are behind the montages, conspiracies, Deep Fake content and tapes that were revealed in this country yesterday. If you want our friendship to continue after 15 May, take your hand off the Turkish state. We are still in favour of cooperation and friendship.”
Criminal complaint against social media users
The Turkish Presidency’s Communications Directorate has filed a criminal complaint against several social media accounts for allegedly creating disinformation content. The complaint was filed just two days before the country’s elections, and the documents submitted stated that these accounts reached 40 million social media users.
According to the complaint, certain social media accounts systematically disseminated disinformation and manipulation content in order to create fear, panic, and chaos in society.
A public prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the users of these accounts for allegedly creating disinformation content.
This move by the Turkish government has come amid a wider crackdown on social media companies, including Twitter, which was fined 40 million Turkish liras (approximately $4.5 million) in April for failing to comply with the country’s new social media law. Critics of the government have raised concerns about freedom of speech and the potential misuse of these regulations for political purposes.
*The Fethullah Gülen movement, a religious group that Turkey accuses of orchestrating a failed coup attempt in 2016 and labels as a terrorist organisation.