Critics and opposition figures expressed concern over possible threats to a peaceful transition of power in Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan suggested that Turks would not allow main opposition leader and presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu to assume the presidency.
Recent polls show Kılıçdaroğlu leading the race with less than two weeks to go before the country’s pivotal elections.
“Regrettably, some people, especially Mr. Kemal [Kılıçdaroğlu], are holding talks with Kandil [the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK)]. Shame on them. [They think that] with the support of Kandil, they [Kılıçdaroğlu] will become president of this country. My nation will not hand over this country to someone who becomes president with the support of Kandil,” President Erdoğan said at a rally in Ankara on Monday.
Erdoğan frequently accuses the opposition of cooperating with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which he and his allies equate with the outlawed PKK.
Erdoğan’s remarks followed a speech by Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu on Friday in which he likened the upcoming general election to a coup attempt. Soylu compared the election to the failed coup on July 15, 2016 and described it as “another coup attempt.”
“July 15 was an attempted coup, and 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,” Soylu said.
Erdoğan’s comments, coming after Soylu’s statement, were seen as a threat to a peaceful transition of power if he loses the election. This is reminiscent of his appeal to Turks that prompted a mob of Erdoğan supporters across the country to take to the streets to resist alleged putschists.
“Some said that if people went to the polls and the government was to change, there would be a so-called coup d’état. You are the ones making the coup,” Kılıçdaroğlu said on Tuesday in response to Soylu.
Erdoğan’s aides have also made similar remarks.
“A change of government in the 2023 elections would be a major blow to Turkey’s path to total independence,” presidential adviser Mehmet Uçum said on Habertürk TV on Monday.
✖️CB Başdanışmanı Mehmet Uçum: “İktidar değişikliği tam bağımsızlığa darbe olur”
✖️Erdoğan: “Benim milletim Kandil’den aldığı destekle Cumhurbaşkanı olana o koltuğu teslim etmez”
✖️Süleyman Soylu: “14 Mayıs siyasi darbe girişmidir”
— Sedef Kabaş (@SedefKabas) May 1, 2023
“In that case, a Western ruling philosophy will prevail, and Turkey’s territorial integrity and political unity will be jeopardized,” Uçum said.
The AKP’s strategy increasingly looks like they are trying to delegitimise the results of the election before we even vote.
They say a defeat for Erdoğan would be a “coup”, a blow to Turkey’s independence, the work of foreign powers.
It’s a threatening and concerning approach.
— Can Okar (@canokar) May 2, 2023
Pundits took to Twitter to warn about the danger of impending chaos in the event Erdoğan decides not to hand over his post peacefully.
“Chaos and a major collapse are inevitable. This opposition cannot resist,” veteran journalist Ergun Babahan tweeted.
It is voter intimidation, Erdogan is threatening the voters with chaos and hoping they will vote for him to avoid a very big chaos that would affect everyone in Turkey. https://t.co/dzScLHZQ6u
— Ali Yıldız, Attorney (@aliyildizlegal) May 1, 2023
In a video posted on YouTube in February, investigative journalist Ahmet Dönmez claimed that high-ranking government officials have plans for a coup if the opposition wins the elections, using the alleged support of the PKK for Kılıçdaroğlu as a pretext.
On Tuesday Ömer Faruk Gergerlioğlu, a human rights advocate and Kocaeli MP for the HDP, filed a criminal complaint against Interior Minister Soylu for his remarks.
According to a statement released on the HDP’s official website, Gergerlioğlu’s complaint accuses Soylu of stating that if Erdoğan loses the presidency and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) lose their majority in parliament, he would not recognize the election results. The statement argued that since the police and gendarmerie are under the interior minister’s command, this would violate the constitutional order and fall under Article 309/1 of the Turkish Penal Code, which outlines the crime of attempting to overthrow the government.
Observers say Erdoğan is facing the most challenging election of his two-decade rule as he trails Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kılıçdaroğlu, the presidential candidate of an opposition alliance of six parties, in the polls.
The alliance led by Kılıçdaroğlu has pledged to restore democracy, release jailed opposition figures, revive freedom of expression and return to economic orthodoxy if it wins the parliamentary and presidential elections on May 14. Their goal is to undo President Erdoğan’s two-decade legacy of highly centralized rule.