The Turkish national election is upon us. The voting occurred on Sunday, May 14 and the count seemed to proceed with glitches that count as minor only in countries like Turkiye. That is to say, the government controls the media and imprisons rival leaders and controls the location of voting centers and the like. Plus, crucially, it controls the central voting authority, the YSK, with its own henchmen. Despite all that, Erdogan’s AK party had the nerve to demand recounts early on in the big cities, which maneuver gave him a big lead for a long duration. But somehow all that was forgotten and as the count proceeded, state media and the election authority announced a bare 49% to 45 % lead for the ruling Erdo party, each side getting less than 50 %, requiring a run-off in two weeks. With almost 90% turnout, so the stats claimed. Erdo’s party actually retained control of parlaiment in coalition with a far-right party. All which belied the run-up polling which had shown the opposition with a clear majority.
Astonishingly, Turks themselves, and media the world over, took the numbers as gospel. All manner of sapient commentary droned up about Erdogan’s resilience, the country’s essential conservatism, how the new-found popularity of ‘ethno-nationalism’ would dominate the run-off and the future generally. Trouble is, so much of the outcome just didn’t make sense. The earthquake-hit areas, sunk in devastation and loathing for the authorities, suddenly seemed to reverse direction and show an improbable liking for Erdogan. Ditto some Kurdish areas (whose leader Erdo has imprisoned).
Yet, the very fact of a massive and peaceful national ritual with tens of millions participating fueled a kind of credulity. People wanted to believe in the process, however weird and improbable the results. It was one of those elections where the liberal pro-democracy side were so astounded at any level of support for the corrupt authoritarians that anything seemed possible – including a lead for Erdogan, despite a terrible economy, huge inflation, massive unemployment, conspicuous corruption, earthquake woes etc etc. And, of course, postponing things to a run-off meant everyone put the first round behind them psychologically and accepted the fait accompli.
Then news began to pop-up of ballot box shenanigans in the Kurdish areas. Then in other areas including the opposition’s strongholds like Istanbul. Erdogan immediately weighed in, yelling to stop all this noise and focus on the upcoming decider in two weeks. The opposition’s vote-monitoring computers got hacked and disabled so they couldn’t double-check the multiplying reports of irregularities. Finally, they filed complaints over thousands of suspect ballot boxes.
None of this should be a surprise to anyone, you’d think. Certainly not to this column, which has twice predicted chicanery would occur in the election. Yet, again astonishingly, Turks had genuinely expected a fair count and wanted to believe the results. Until now. The theater of it all on the day created a kind of wishful thinking syndrome – so glad was the populace that theirs was no third-world tinpot dictatorship with fake elections. Here’s a twitter feed to peruse on the inconsistencies.
We’ve seen this movie before, and not just in Turkey but wherever pro-authoritarian voting dumbfounded observers: Moldava, Georgia, Hungary, even Crimea. This column has oft bemoaned the strange phenomenon of all those countries who think that their inexplicably popular tinpot firebrand is unique to them. When, in fact, the pattern of first vaguely fair elections followed by state capture then by constant election rigging is endlessly repeated across the globe. It is now a frequently copied modus operandi. With the Kremlin’s original fingerprints ever more visible each time. One common psy-ops feature: always accuse the others of malfeasance you’re about to commit. Hence, AK party early disputing the oppo’s ballot counts.
Yet, yet, yet, the Turks really thought for a while this election was fair, their country was different from other corrupt states, even after years of Erdo chicanery. After all, didn’t the opposition almost equal Erdogan’s vote? Some global commentators actually made that point with the implication that the election was fair. In fact, a run-off benefits Erdo because, owning the media, he has all the advantages in a mano-a-mano race against the uncharismatic oppo leader Kilicdaroglu. Either way, Erdo can’t afford to leave things to chance as this column said first on March 13 under the title “If The Earthquake In Turkey Topples Erdogan Democratically, What Will He Do To Stay In Power” and more recently in the April 30 column about meetings in Moscow.
For Erdogan, losing power means being prosecuted for years of corruption. He cannot risk a fair election. He will find ways to cheat. He already did on May 14. As the populace increasingly wakes up to his interference, they will reject any outcome in his favor however larded with fake-legit processes. And the oncoming months and years will see severe instability conditions in Turkey.