Analysts observing the election race for the presidency in Turkey are increasingly noting statements from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and some of his senior associates that could be aimed at undermining the legitimacy of the vote if the opposition prevails.
Among those sounding the alarm this week was Wolfango Piccoli at political risk consultancy Teneo, who also raised concern about how Erdogan’s hardline interior minister Suleyman Soylu “has built a tally infrastructure within the interior ministry to count and monitor votes”.
“As part of a possible wider strategy to delegitimize [main challenger to Erdogan Kemal] Kilicdaroglu’s possible win – especially if achieved by a small margin – the ministry could issue results that are different from those provided by the Supreme Electoral Board (YSK),” warned Piccoli.
With nine days left until May 14’s ballot day, Kilicdaroglu enjoys the momentum. The polls suggest that the united opposition led by Kilicdaroglu could wrest control of parliament from Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its allies, The Economist wrote on May 4, adding: "What is more, Mr Erdogan himself appears to be trailing in the presidential election to be held on the same day."
Added Piccoli in his note: “Feeling the pressure, President Tayyip Erdogan has intensified attacks against his main opponent and his allies while trying to consolidate the masses behind him by whipping up the usual culture wars.”
With the vast majority of media owners and managers in Turkey loyal to Erdogan, another observation from Piccoli—namely that state-run broadcaster TRT has aired Erdogan’s live election speeches for 32 hours in one month, whereas it allocated only 32 minutes to Kilicdaroglu rallies during the same period—will come as no surprise to Turkey watchers.
Added Piccoli: “Erdogan has been increasingly turning to unfounded attacks on the main opposition and stoking tensions on Turkey’s political fault lines. In remarks made during various rallies over the past few days, Erdogan has attacked the opposition alliance for ‘drawing support’ from terrorist organizations like the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and imperialists, saying they are seeking to ‘divide the country’ and revert its gains.
“Erdogan’s remarks followed a speech by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu late last week in which he likened the upcoming general election to a coup attempt. The Western coup narrative pushed by Soylu and others could pave the way for Erdogan’s supporters to challenge the elections in case of an opposition victory.”
Those fearing Erdogan will refuse to hand over power if he loses to Kilicdaroglu will have been concerned to hear the strongman on May 1 thunder: “My people will not hand over this country to a president supported by [the PKK].”
The Economist, however, reported opposition politicians as waving aside such concerns, saying they were confident in the integrity of the vote, and that Erdogan would not dare challenge the people’s will, on which his legitimacy depends. “He can try anything,” Kilicdaroglu was quoted as saying, adding. “But no matter what he does, this nation has made its decision.”