‘The Most Unfair Election’: Turkish Opposition Laments Defeat to Erdogan

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a ceremony, in Ankara, Turkey, May 16,
AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici

Incumbent Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan entered his third decade in power on Sunday by winning the runoff election against challenger Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

Leaders of the multi-party opposition alliance indicated they would not challenge the election result, but some said the contest was not free and fair.

“This was the most unfair election period in our history,” Kilicdaroglu said from the headquarters of his CHP party in Ankara on Sunday.

Kilicdaroglu suggested Erdogan used intimidation tactics to remain in power.

“We did not bow down to the climate of fear. In this election, the will of the people to change an authoritarian government became clear despite all the pressures,” he said.

“The means of the state has been entirely pledged to one person,” he said, alluding to Erdogan using state media to promote his campaign and spending billions from the government treasury to defuse popular discontent with Turkey’s declining economy.

Kilicdaroglu returned to his runoff campaign theme of blaming Erdogan for allowing huge numbers of refugees into Turkey, especially those fleeing the brutal civil war in neighboring Syria.

“I could never stay silent when your rights were violated. I could never tolerate you becoming second-class citizens after millions of refugees came here. I fought for all these and will continue to fight,” he told his supporters.

“My real sorrow is the fact that we will observe more difficult days ahead. But I can assure you that it will again be us who will try to stand in front of them,” he said.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the joint presidential candidate of the Nation Alliance greets the crowd at an electoral rally organized by CHP in Sivas, Turkiye on May 11, 2023. (Photo by Serhat Zafer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

“It does appear that President Erdogan has won these elections. But it would be a mistake to call this a victory. Perhaps a Pyrrhic victory is a better term to describe this situation,” said Kilicdaroglu adviser Mehmet Karli, ominously alluding to Turkey’s deep political divisions and perilous economic situation.

Kilicdaroglu’s CHP party said on Sunday that some of its election observers were physically attacked in southeastern Turkey after they objected to voting irregularities.

Agence France-Presse (AFP) found CHP spokesman Faik Oztrak in a “sour mood” on Sunday, departing from his first press conference of the evening without taking questions after he made a brief statement. AFP found this a “marked difference from his bullish remarks and vigorous contestation of the first-round vote count.”

Selahattin Demirtas, jailed leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP party, spoke even more harshly of the tactics Erdogan employed to win the election.

“I would like to thank everyone who went to the polls to vote, who could not go even if they wanted to, who resisted and worked hard to protect the votes,” Demirtas said on Twitter, implying some people who might have voted against Erdogan were prevented from reaching the polls.

“Even reaching this rate of votes with a principled and moral election campaign against a huge operational force that has taken over the state is considered a miracle,” he said.

“In fact, it was not an election, but a major operation. The election process was full of inequalities, oppression, incredible lies, slanders and smears,” he continued.

Demirtas contended the public actually desired a change of leadership, but “the whole process was manipulated” to keep Erdogan in office.

“We are not defeated. Let no one be hopeless because we are not defeated. Never surrender. Keep fighting, keep going, keep going,” he concluded.

Erdogan made a point of saying Demirtas would remain in prison only a few minutes after the final election results were announced.

co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas speaks during an interview on July 22, 2016 in Ankara. / AFP / ADEM ALTAN (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

co-leader of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas speaks during an interview on July 22, 2016, in Ankara. (Photo credit should read ADEM ALTAN/AFP/Getty Images)

“It is not possible for such a thing to happen,” he said, rejecting calls from the international community to release Demirtas, who is widely seen as a political prisoner. Demirtas has been in jail since 2016.

“In our government, justice is the foundation of property! This cannot be changed!” Erdogan thundered.

Sinan Ogan — the nationalist candidate who finished third in the first round of the election, enjoyed playing kingmaker for a couple of weeks and ultimately endorsed Erdogan five days before the runoff election — somewhat confusingly declared that the winners included “Turkish nationalists, Kemalists, the Turkish nation, and the Turkish world.” Although, Kilicdaroglu was the Kemalist in the race — a devotee of Turkey’s post-Ottoman Empire secularist reformer Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. 

Erdogan despises Kemalist philosophy, openly admires the Ottoman Empire, and has worked assiduously to reverse Ataturk’s reforms to make Turkey into an authoritarian Islamist nation.

Ogan said the election losers were “the lynch culture and the parties affiliated with terrorism and those who trusted them,” alluding to his unease with Kurdish support for Kilicdaroglu. Erdogan and his supporters consider most Kurdish parties in Turkey to be allied with the violent separatist movement known as the PKK.

Ogan mostly seemed pleased that so many of his supporters followed his lead and supported Erdogan, even though some key members of Ogan’s political coalition said he did not speak for them and they intended to vote for Kilicdaroglu, who made a strong play for nationalist voters in the closing days of the runoff campaign.

“Our voters abandoned the enthusiasm of those who said that these votes were not given to Sinan Ogan, they trusted us and to a great extent chose where we are,” he boasted.

The Associated Press

An election representative holds a ballot with presidential candidates at a polling station in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, May 28, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Meral Aksener, chairwoman of the IYI or “Good Party,” was the first major opposition leader to congratulate Erdogan on his victory, but she also cautioned him not to “forget that the polls conveyed messages to him as well.”

Aksener — whose party pulled out of the six-party opposition National Alliance coalition in March because it did not want Kilicdaroglu as the alliance’s candidate but returned to the fold later after some concessions were made — told Erdogan to expect continuing opposition in the legislature.

“Don’t forget that we are still here, at the parliament. We will continue to fulfill our responsibility,” she said.

Reuters described a funeral mood in neighborhoods that supported the opposition, even as Erdogan-supporting districts erupted in riotous celebration. 

“I can’t believe this happened, he’s as bad as Hitler. My plan from here is to go to the airport and immigrate to Canada,” a 29-year-old architect who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters.

When the reporter asked if she had any hope left, she replied, “Just a little. Turks are not very smart people, so just a little.”


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