Erdogan Declares Victory on Bus Roof in Violent Turkish Presidential Election


    As of Sunday evening, Turkish election authorities had counted 99.08 percent of the total vote in the race, including absentee ballots from abroad. With that many votes counted, Erdo?an received 52.07 percent of the vote. His rival, secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal K?l??daro?lu, received 47.93 percent of the vote.

    As is typical in modern Turkish elections, Erdo?an and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured voter support in much of the Turkish heartland, while K?l??daro?lu fared better in the urban west (including Istanbul), the largely Kurdish east, and the nation’s capital, Ankara. Ankara is the only region of interior Turkey that K?l??daro?lu won.

    Erdo?an eked out somewhat surprising victories in several of the provinces most devastated by deadly earthquakes in February, where he faced significant political headwinds for a real estate developer “amnesty” that allowed buildings not up to earthquake code to persist unrepaired, likely worsening the five-figure death toll. Erdo?an won most of the earthquake provinces with the exception of Adana and the regions in the east, such as Diyarbakir, where ethnic Kurdish voters are more prevalent. Erdo?an has spent much of his tenure in power attacking Kurdish communities, equating Kurdish activists and political groups with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), a Marxist terror group.

    K?l??daro?lu and Erdo?an squared off in a first round of voting on May 14 alongside two others, nationalist candidates Sinan O?an and Muharrem ?nce. To win the presidency in the first round, one candidate must receive over 50 percent of the vote, which none did. Erdo?an topped the list with 49.4 percent of the vote, while K?l??daro?lu received 44.96 percent of the vote. The results were surprising as weeks of nationwide polling showed K?l??daro?lu consistently defeating Erdo?an, in some cases with slightly above the 50-percent support threshold necessary to avoid a runoff.

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    Kemal K?l??daro?lu, presidential candidate and leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), prepares to cast his vote at a polling station in Ankara, Turkey, on Sunday, May 28, 2023. (Moe Zoyari/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

    O?an’s Erdo?an-friendly coalition received over five percent of the vote in the first round. ?nce dropped out shortly before the election, claiming that unknown individuals had used editing technology to insert images of himself in Israeli pornography. Police arrested three people following the May 14 election in relation to those accusations.

    ?nce did not endorse anyone in the second-round runoff; O?an endorsed Erdo?an.

    The voting ends a dramatic, and often violent, campaign that many international observers denounced as neither free nor fair. Erdo?an has been prime minister or president of the country for over 20 years and wielded that power to imprison political dissidents, shut down dozens of media outlets his regime could not control, and paralyze potential organized opposition movements against the AKP.

    In one of the Turkish government’s most egregious acts under the Erdo?an regime, police detained the head of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP), Selahattin Demirta?, shortly before the 2018 presidential election, forcing him to campaign from prison, where he remains to this day. Erdo?an made Demirta? a campaign issue by branding him a terrorist, without evidence, responsible for the killing of children and predicting that K?l??daro?lu would let him out of prison.

    A woman standing behind a fence holds a portrait of Selahattin Demirtas, a jailed former leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party HDP, as Turkish Kurds gather during the celebration of Nowruz (aka Noruz or Newroz), the Persian calendar New Year, in Istanbul on March 21, 2018. (OZAN KOSE/AFP/Getty Images)

    Mob attacks on known CHP officials or supporters are also not uncommon in the country and multiple ballot box stations documented such violence against dissidents on Sunday.

    The CHP accused the AKP of fraud in the first round of voting and of using violence to intimidate potential secularist voters. K?l??daro?lu’s party also claimed to have documented irregularities in the processing of thousands of ballot boxes in the May 14 election. Similarly, observers sent by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) reported a lack of transparency in vote counting and “overwhelming bias” in media coverage of the election.

    On Sunday, opposition leaders and anti-Erdo?an media documented multiple instances of violence, apparently by SKP supporters. In ?anl?urfa province, a suspected AKP mob estimated to be made up of about 40 men brutalized former CHP lawmaker Ali ?eker, who was working to get out the vote for his party.

    “This is a village where men cast votes in place of women. There are 1093 voters here. Imagine that 1074 people are supposedly voting for Erdo?an. We reported it to the governorship and the police to take precautions,” ?eker narrated, according to the Turkish outlet Duvar. “The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) members were threatening the ballot box officials.”

    ?eker claimed that the mob was intending a “big lynching” barely averted by the four police officers on duty to protect the village where the attacks took place.

    L?tf? T?rkkan, a lawmaker with the opposition Good Party which endorsed K?l??daro?lu, posted videos online appearing to show an AKP mob attacking a police officer at a polling station in Ankara.

    “If you are the AK Party, you can shove the police, you can insult them,” T?rkkan denounced.

    The Turkish media outlet Dokuz 8 reported that one of its journalists, Fato? Erdo?an, became involved in a brawl at a middle school in Istanbul where votes were being cast.

    “AKP-affiliated woman forcibly took our reporter’s phone, pulled her hair, and even kicked her, resulting in injuries,” the outlet claimed.

    Another brawl in Ankara caught on video reportedly erupted as Turkish election authority officials counted votes, necessitating a police intervention and the use of pepper spray.

    Erdo?an appeared oblivious to the chaos apparently sprawling in voting centers throughout the nation when he declared victory on Sunday evening, declaring the country itself “the only winner” of the election. In his victory speech, the president disparaged his opponent and other political parties that united behind him as “pro-LGBT” and promised to protect the “sacred” family from attempts to “infiltrate” Turkish culture.

    The president also sang a tune atop his bus to a frenzied crowd of supporters.

    Erdo?an promised he would be with Turkey “to the grave.”

    Later on Sunday night local time, throngs of apparently thousands of AKP supporters began flooding Turkey’s major cities to celebrate Erdo?an.

    In ?anl?urfa, reports indicated that at least one person had been injured by celebratory gunfire in AKP street festivities.

    Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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