May 8, 2023 | Policy Brief

Erdogan Threatens to Discard Election Results

May 8, 2023 | Policy Brief

Erdogan Threatens to Discard Election Results

With elections just six days away and the polls showing a neck-and-neck race between President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his main challenger, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, Erdogan is threatening to block a transition if his opponent prevails, claiming falsely that Kurdish terrorists support Kilicdaroglu. Erdogan has become increasingly corrupt and autocratic over the course of his 20 years in power, so there is substantial risk that he will ignore the will of the people if they do not re-elect him.

Erdogan maintained a noticeable lead over Kilicdaroglu for most of the campaign, but the gap has narrowed in the final days before the election. This may reflect signs of Erdogan’s failing health, which forced him off the campaign trail for two days in late April. More likely, the cause is Turkey’s economy, which suffers from high levels of inflation, and a frustrated public that appears increasingly receptive to Kilicdaroglu’s promises. The challenger’s campaign has seemingly energized voters, a trend clearly visible in campaign rallies and social media messaging.

The elections will also determine the composition of the country’s parliament. At present, polls suggest Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) will likely gain a plurality of seats, enabling it to block Kilicdaroglu’s proposed return to parliamentary democracy and rejection of the presidential system Erdogan established in 2017. Reinstating the parliamentary system — one of Kilicdaroglu’s major promises — would require an amendment to the constitution, which demands a two-thirds majority.

One week ago, Erdogan accused Kilicdaroglu of secretly negotiating with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which both Ankara and Washington consider a terrorist group. “My nation will not hand over this country to someone who becomes president with the support of Kandil,” Erdogan said at a rally last Monday, referring to the location of the PKK headquarters. Erdogan’s accusations are groundless.

Erdogan has previously sought to discard unfavorable election results. In 2019, he did not recognize the outcome of the Istanbul mayoral race and forced the city to re-run the elections, yet the AKP still lost. The independence of the Supreme Election Council (YSK), which will determine the winners and losers of the May 14 elections, is also in question. The YSK approved Erdogan’s unconstitutional bid for a third term and has ignored the requirement that candidates have a university degree.

Erdogan’s interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, has been more explicit in his efforts to delegitimize the election. “May 14 is a political coup attempt. It’s very clear that the West is part of this coup. They [the West and its allies in Turkey] want to leave Turkey powerless and take over the country,” he recently stated.

The United States has expressed support for Turkey’s democratic process while seeking to remain on the sidelines of the presidential contest. Yet the White House should prepare to confront Erdogan if he rigs the election, refuses to accept the results, or uses violence to suppress pro-democracy protests. Washington and other NATO member states should form a unified front prepared to assert maximum diplomatic pressure to prevent violence and defend the democratic process.

The United States should also be prepared to share with Turkey — both its government and the opposition — any information it has pertaining to election security, including evidence of foreign interference, possibly from Russia. Washington should also pay close attention to reports from independent election monitors and be wary of premature announcements of the elections’ results.

U.S.-Turkish relations have suffered greatly under Erdogan, in no small part because of his authoritarian behavior. Ensuring the integrity of Turkey’s democratic process is the best hope for reconciliation.

Sinan Ciddi is a non-resident senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), where he contributes to FDD’s Turkey Program. For more analysis from Sinan and the Turkey Program, please subscribe HERE. Follow Sinan on Twitter @SinanCiddi. Follow FDD on Twitter @FDD. FDD is a Washington, DC-based, nonpartisan research institute focused on national security and foreign policy.


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