Turkey’s top election authority announced on Monday an unprecedented second round of voting in its presidential race between Islamist Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and secularist challenger Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.
Following a campaign season in which the opposition repeatedly accused the Erdoğan government – and the Russian government – of attempting to sabotage its efforts and international media widely expected Sunday’s vote to be far from free and fair, Turks showed up in large numbers to vote. Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK), the agency responsible for organizing elections, measured a turnout of nearly 90 percent. An estimated 55 million voters participated in the effort, nearly splitting their support between the top two candidates.
Both Kılıçdaroğlu himself and members of his coalition accused the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) of a variety of election irregularities, including slowing down the counting of votes from urban areas where the opposition tends to have more support and counting votes multiple times in areas supportive of the AKP. Anti-Erdoğan publication Duvar listed several instances of alleged irregularities, many of them violent, including a poll worker claiming a mob of 50 people boiled water over him to force their way through and case fraudulent ballots.
According to the YSK, as of Monday morning and with over 99 percent of the vote counted, Erdoğan received 49.4 percent of the vote. Kılıçdaroğlu received 44.96 percent of the vote, while Sinan Oğan, formerly of the Erdoğan-friendly Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), received a little more than five percent of the vote. Muharrem İnce, a former member of Kılıçdaroğlu’s Republican People’s Party (CHP), received 0.44 percent of the vote despite dropping out of the race on Thursday with an incendiary speech accusing his opponents of doctoring Israeli pornographic images to appear to include him.
Polls shortly before the election showed Kılıçdaroğlu with a significant lead over Erdoğan of between five and seven points. To have won the election outright, a candidate in the May 14 election needed to receive upwards of 50 percent of the vote. Early in the vote tallies on Sunday, Erdoğan appeared to receive as high as 60 percent support, but that number diminished as large numbers of votes from the country’s major cities rolled in.
Kılıçdaroğlu claimed on Sunday that the apparently slow counting of votes from Ankara, Istanbul, and other major cities was a deliberate AKP attempt to manipulate the vote.
“They are blocking the system at the ballot boxes where our votes are high with repeated objections,” the candidate alleged, according to Politico. “Don’t be afraid of the people’s will. Don’t block the people’s will. I call on democracy workers in the field not to leave the ballot boxes. We are here until every vote is counted.”
Kılıçdaroğlu reportedly claimed that YSK officials were blocking the counting of 300 ballot boxes in the nation’s capital and nearly 800 boxes in Istanbul, a traditional CHP stronghold. The mayors of both cities, who support the Kılıçdaroğlu, also joined in attacking the YSK and the state-run Anadolu news agency for allegedly manipulating reporting on the votes as they came in.
“They [the AKP] are slowing down the vote counting through a systematic appeal campaign. The votes in some polling stations have been counted multiple times,” Mansur Yavaş, the mayor of Ankara, said on Sunday, according to the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet.
“Yavaş said, according to the official records, Kılıçdaroğlu was having 47.7 percent of the votes and Erdoğan 45.8 percent and that there were more than 8 million votes to be counted and included in the official registration,” Hurriyet relayed.
Yavaş and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem İmamoğlu both accused Anadolu of creating the false appearance of a landslide win for Erdoğan during the early vote counting to discourage the opposition.
“The mayors said the agency was giving an exaggerated picture of Erdoğan’s lead early in the evening by cherry-picking results only from districts where the AK party was strong,” Politico explained. “The intention was to dishearten electoral observers from the opposition camp, who would leave before all ballots had been counted, which would allow ballots to potentially be manipulated.”
Duvar, the anti-Erdoğan outlet, documented a series of claims of “attacks, frauds, and attempts to prevent voting” nationwide to the president’s favor on Sunday, citing the Turkish-language publication Evrensel:
People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Press Office announced that around two thousand people in southeastern Gaziantep province, who are mostly Green and Left Party (YSP) voters, were unable to vote because they had been registered as polling officials from the Patriotic Party without being informed.
Also in Diyarbakır, around 200 voters who were assigned as polling officials without their knowledge were not allowed to vote.
Ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) election observers beat a Workers’ Party of Turkey (TİP) member when he tried to block them from entering the voting booth with voters.
The boiling water incident reportedly occurred in southeastern Urfa: “Fettullah Işıkakdoğan, a polling station official who objected to the block voting of 40-50 people, was poured boiling water over him and then beaten in Urfa’s Akçakale district”:
Sosyal medyaya yansıyan bu görüntüler Şanlıurfa Harran ilçesi, Minare köyünde çekilmiştir. Önce sandık kurulu üyelerimiz darp edilmiş sonra bu görüntüler ortaya çıkmıştır. Yetkili avukat arkadaşlarımız ilgili köye yönlendirilmiş ve İlçe Seçim Kuruluna itiraz edilmiştir.
Bu arada… pic.twitter.com/Yh1lyJjvqq
— Oğuz Kaan Salıcı (@oguzksalici) May 14, 2023
Last week, during the final days of campaigning, Kılıçdaroğlu accused the government of Russia of attempting to interfere in the election through online disinformation dumps. Erdoğan responded by accusing America and the greater West of doing the same against himself.
YSK leader Ahmet Yener said on Sunday that his election oversight board had not documented any disruptions in vote counting that day, according to Anadolu.
Erdoğan himself dismissed allegations of fraud in a fiery balcony speech shortly after midnight in the early hours of Monday.
“We have completed the choice [at the ballot] without any sad stories,” the president said, describing the Turkish election system as an “example to the world” and a “festival of democracy.”
“We know that we are clearly ahead in the election, but we are waiting for the manifestation of the national will, as the full extent of the result is not yet officially before us,” the president said, claiming that he believed he would win the first round and stop the runoff after the final votes were counted.
“If our nation’s decision shows that the presidential election is over, there’s no problem. If our nation has made its choice in favor of a second round in the election, it is welcome to do so,” he added.
Kılıçdaroğlu also spoke late on Sunday, shortly after his rival, condemning Erdoğan’s alleged “slanders” and improprieties against his party.
“It is relieving to see the turnout close to 90 percent and the elections took place in full maturity. Erdoğan could not get the result he wanted despite all his slanders,” Kılıçdaroğlu said. “Erdoğan failed to get the confidence vote from the people. The call for change has come from more than 50 percent of the people.”