Press Releases | May 15, 2023

Erdogan on the Brink of Cementing Autocracy in Turkey

(Washington, D.C.) — Sunday’s presidential election delivered a blow to Turkish democracy. Erdogan’s control over civil institutions proved impossible for the opposition to overcome. Despite polling that consistently placed Erdogan’s opponent in the lead, Kilicdaroglu’s final votes yesterday were tallied at only 44%. Against all pollsters’ predictions, Erdogan ended only half a percentage point away from winning the first round outright. With neither candidate receiving more than half the vote, elections will move to a runoff in two weeks.

Ambassador Mark Wallace, CEO of the Turkish Democracy Project, said:

“The Turkish opposition on Sunday attempted to use the democratic process to oust an autocrat who was seeking to subvert that process. The playing field was never level. The Turkish people deserve global recognition for their overwhelming turnout on Sunday, but the odds continue to be stacked against democracy in Turkey.”

Several irregularities from Sunday’s elections remain unaddressed. Before the start of elections, the Supreme Election Council (YSK) allowed Erdogan to run despite the fact that his candidacy was in fact unconstitutional. Furthermore, the YSK partnered with a Turkish Armed Forces-owned cybersecurity firm, Havelsan, to count votes. During the voting process, AKP officials continuously challenged thousands of ballots from areas that traditionally went to the opposition. It remains unclear when, if, and how those votes were actually tallied. Finally, the YSK itself is made up of Erdogan-appointed judges, and there is no appeals process for their decisions.

In addition to the above, Erdogan employed all of his usual tactics before Turks even went to the polls. These include: media control, lack of transparency regarding the YSK’s process, control of the judiciary that saw his opponents and their parties subject to arrests and political bans, and incendiary rhetoric that baselessly accused the West of election interference. Erdogan is sure to hone these tactics in the weeks to come so as to ensure a victory for himself and his autocratic party. Both the Turkish opposition and the international liberal order must be ready to stand up to and refute his election engineering and demagoguery.