Turkish opposition alliance presidential candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu has urged citizens to stay indoors if he defeats President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey’s upcoming elections to avoid the risk of confrontation with “armed elements” loyal to the regime.
Kilicdaroglu issued the blunt warning in an interview with KRT television late on May 4 as the country prepared for a final week of campaigning ahead of May 14’s polling day.
“When we are victorious on the election night, all our citizens should stay indoors instead of rejoicing in the streets,” Kilicdaroglu said. “Some people might stir trouble, some people may be provoked, armed elements may take the streets.”
Kilicdaroglu—head of Turkey’s broadest ever opposition bloc, the six-party Nation Alliance, and formally backed by the pro-Kurdish minority People’s Democratic Alliance (HDP)—also said the opposition has intelligence that indicates it may be targeted on social media with deepfake video or voice records.
“They can make negative propaganda by changing the sound and images,” Kilicdaroglu said. “We’ve learned that they’ve made agreements with some hackers from abroad and made payments in Bitcoin.”
Erdogan on stage at a rally in Mersin on May 6 (Credit: Turkish Presidency).
Two days earlier, Kilicdaroglu addressed Erdogan officials on Twitter with warnings against the emergence of a disinformation campaign, writing: “There are two days left until the final ten days [before the parliamentary and presidential elections]. Let me give my last warning. Fahrettin Altun, Serhat and their teammates Cagatay and Evren; The dark web world you are trying to deal with will lead you into the hands of foreign intelligence. Playing Cambridge Analytica is beyond your capacity, boys. LAST WARNING!”
Turkey’s communications minister, Fahrettin Altun, responded sharply on Twitter to the accusations against the group consisting of himself, his two deputies and Serhat Eroglu, head of the communication ministry’s data processing department.
“Kilicdaroglu has once again tried to defame our Directorate of Communication,” Altun said, “who work day and night for the strategic communication of our country and have achieved great success in the fight against systematic disinformation against our country.
“It is unacceptable for any politician who has embraced democracy to indulge in the politics of gossip and slander… we fight against disinformation, which we see as one of the biggest enemies of democracy, and inform national and international public opinion accurately, quickly and transparently.”
Responding to fears that there could be attempts to rig the vote to ensure he does not defeat Turkish leader of two decades Erdogan, 74-year-old Kilicdaroglu has told how the combined opposition has worked hard for more than a year and a half to assemble enough observers to have more than one in each polling station in the country of 85mn.
Kilicdaroglu—a quietly spoken former economist and civil servant who pledges to restore democratic freedoms lost under Erdogan and hopes for resounding support in these elections from the five million Turks who for the first time are old enough to vote—told the BBC last week that Nation Alliance would be vigilant, trusting neither the president, "nor his Supreme Election Council nor his judges".
On fears that Erdogan will not depart office quietly if he loses, he added: "We will retire him, and send him to his corner. He will step back quietly. No one should have any concerns about it."
Those not so certain that that will prove to be the case note various worrying comments in the past week, including remarks from Erdogan’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, in which he warned that the vote will be a “coup attempt by the West”.
Trailing Kilicdaroglu in the polls, Erdogan, 69, has stepped up his polarising rhetoric on the campaign trail.
“My nation will not surrender this country to the one who becomes president with the support of Qandil,” Erdogan told supporters in Ankara on May 1, referencing the Qandil mountains on the Iraq-Iran border where the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 39-year insurgency against the Turkish state, has its main base.
Erdogan, who has also talked of making Kilicdaroglu a “political corpse”, has also gone on the attack with identity politics, talking of the opposition parties of being pro-LGBT. “We are not pro-LGBT, we are against LGBT. The Republican People’s Party [CHP] is pro-LGBT, the Good Party [IYI Party] is LGBT, and the Peoples’ Democratic Party [HDP] is pro-LGBT. Family is sacred to us.”
Underscoring the HDP’s endorsement of Kilicdaroglu, the jailed former co-leader of the party, Selahattin Demirtas, referred to him as “Turkey’s 13th President”, tweeting on May 3: “Turkey’s 13th President Mr. Kilicdaroglu, may God speed you. I sincerely believe that you will end factionalism, ensure social peace and bring Turkey prosperity and serenity. My vote is for you, Mr. #CumhurbaşkanıKılıçdaroğlu."
If the Erdogan camp does retain confidence that their man will triumph despite enthusiasm for Kilicdaroglu, that confidence is not so robust that they are content to ignore negative headlines in the international media.
The week closed with Erdogan’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, pulling an article he’d submitted to The Economist, after the weekly pictured “Save Democracy” and “Erdogan Must Go” pins on a cover devoted to the Turkish elections.
The British magazine described Turkey’s ballot as the most important election of 2023, adding in the cover story: “If Turkey sacks its strongman, democrats everywhere should take heart.”
Cavusoglu asked why the publication was “attempting to intervene in the internal politics of a country”, while Erdogan said in a Twitter post: “We will not allow our domestic politics to be directed and the national will to be swayed by the covers of magazines that are the operational apparatus of global powers.”