Turkish Government Buses Bulgarian Turks Back to Bulgaria to Vote as Ex-Pats

Turkish President and leader of the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Recep Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he delivers a speech during the AK Party's parliamentary group meeting at the Grand National Assembly of Turkey (TBMM) in Ankara, on April 24, 2018. (Photo by ADEM ALTAN / AFP) (Photo credit …

In the lead-up to June 24 Turkish elections, the Erdoğan government is reportedly sending busloads of Bulgarian Turks to Bulgaria to vote as ex-pats, raising suspicions of voter fraud through double voting.

With the hotly contested Turkish elections just around the corner, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been holding election rallies and making fiercely passionate speeches. In mid-April, Erdoğan called for snap elections for June 24, alleging that economic challenges and the war in Syria meant Turkey must switch quickly to the powerful executive presidency that will go into effect after the vote.

Bulgarian public television has released footage of busloads of Turkish nationals of Bulgarian origin coming to their country of birth to vote early in the 24 June elections.

A June 14 article in Euractiv suggests that the Turkish president is likely sending his supporters into Bulgaria so they can vote twice, “which would constitute election fraud.”

When interviewed, one elderly man who came into Bulgaria on one of the Turkish voter buses declared his loyalty to President Erdoğan. Although Turkey does not allow people to vote twice in the country, it does hold provisions allowing expatriates to vote abroad.

In July 2016, an attempted coup d’etat by members of the Turkish military failed to overthrow President Erdoğan. As shots rang out in Istanbul and Ankara, Turkish fighter jets bombed Parliament while officer Hulusi Akar was kidnapped.

Counter-coup activists, taking to the streets armed with household objects, defeated the coup with the help of sympathetic soldiers and police. Over 250 people lost their lives during the conflict, which Erdoğan used to tighten his iron grip on Turkey.

Authorities have held Turkish expatriate Fethullah Gulen responsible for the coup, and Erdoğan has since spoken at numerous rallies, berating the rebels as “traitors” whose heads he wished to “rip off.” Erdoğan’s revenge was swift and far-reaching, including arrests of more than 50,000 military and government officials in the coup’s aftermath. He also moved to silence his opponents by breaking up dozens of Turkish media outlets.

A July 2017 article in the CyprusMail Online accused Erdoğan’s Turkey of “stumbling toward something approaching dictatorship” and proposed that the president was using the failed attempt to expand his “witch hunt” against political enemies. Erdoğan has hailed the failed coup as a “gift from God.”

Erdoğan’s fiery rhetoric and power grab has won him enemies, such as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has slammed him for hypocrisy. Netanyahu tweeted that Erdogan “should get used to” being answered back to when he—the one who invaded Cyprus—demonizes Israel as a “terrorist” state.

While most observers expect Erdoğan to easily win the June 24 vote, seemingly desperate moves such as busing voters to Bulgaria suggest that the president himself is not so sure.

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