As Turks prepare to head to the polls Sunday in a snap election called by incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Policy has published what is essentially a summary blueprint outlining the ways Erdogan could steal the election, noting "Sunday's vote is one he can't afford to lose."
As we previously commented, though the man who has dominated the nation's politics for almost two decades is not expected to lose, a consensus is emerging that the vote should be regarded as a referendum on his person and leadership.
And now, a visible surge in popularity for the rival secularist Republican People's Party (CHP) candidate has pundits declaring the opposition actually has a chance.
AKP President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Republican People's Party (CHP) challenger Muharrem Ince. Image via Hurriyet
Erdogan has often boasted that he has never lost an election and, as recent polls indicate, he is unlikely to lose this time either (but likely by a thin margin). Since 2002, he and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) have won five parliamentary elections, three local elections, three referendums and one presidential election.
The president moved elections that weren't supposed to be held until 2019 forward by more than a year in hopes of smashing an unprepared opposition, but there's yet a possibility this could backfire.
Ironically, the move could blow up in Erdogan's face as he called for the early elections at a moment when the economy appeared strong, but which in the interim began tanking — giving all but die-hard AKP supporters reason for serious pause as the opposition's message becomes louder.
His legacy has already been established as ushering in Turkey’s transformation from a parliamentary to a presidential system, giving a disproportionate share of power to the president, and should he win he'll assume even greater executive powers after last year's referendum which narrowly approved major constitutional changes related to the presidency.
But Erdogan's main opposition candidate, Muharrem Ince, is this week drawing immense crowds according to a variety of reports, and gaining support from a cross-section of Turks increasingly fed up with Erdogan's power-grabbing.
opposition candidate Muharrem Ince at Ankara rally pic.twitter.com/LDk4pNxgv6— Ece Toksabay (@ecetoksabay) June 22, 2018
Ince, a former high school physics teacher widely seen has having much more charisma, has mirrored Erdogan's firebrand and combative rhetoric while taking direct aim at the Islamic conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader's enabling corruption and nepotism, and his further overseeing an economy in tailspin with the lira having lost nearly 20% of its value since the year began, inflation at 12%, and interest rates at 18%.
Muharrem Ince's simple yet pointed appeal goes something like this: "Erdogan is tired, he has no joy and he is arrogant," he told hundreds of thousands of supporters at an Izmir rally on Wednesday. CNN noted the rally presented "what looked like the largest crowd in the elections period yet."
Sunday's election is being widely described the most important in recent Turkish political history — a crossing the Rubicon moment for Erdogan as he stands to inherit an unprecedented and likely irreversible level of sweeping executive authority.
As Foreign Policy explains, he has carefully put the architecture in place for this moment, and the outlook remains bleak for the future of democracy in Turkey:
The current Council of Ministers, all members of parliament, will cease to exist and the president will appoint advisors and deputies to run the country. Parliament, especially if it remains in the hands of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), will be nothing but a rubber stamp. Erdogan over the years has amassed an enormous amount of power by molding state institutions to his liking and by eliminating anyone from his entourage who can even minimally challenge him. Every single member of the party owes his or her position directly to Erdogan. This patronage system permeates all levels of the bureaucracy, which has lost its independence.
So again, on June 24 losing is not an option for Erdogan.
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Here are ways Erdogan can steal the election, according to Foreign Policy:
1) He's already engineered electoral law for less oversight of ballots:
He has engineered several changes to the electoral law, two of which could be game-changers. The first is the elimination of the requirement that all ballots be stamped by officials. This practice will open up the system to abuse in obvious ways — it was precisely such a last-minute change that allowed the government to claim victory in 2017 during the constitutional referendum.
2) Erdogan's own party cronies will manage and appoint officials for Sunday's election process:
Erdogan’s second change to the electoral law concerns the ballot box overseers: Whereas in the past political parties nominated candidates who were chosen by a draw, under the new rules overseers are to be chosen among local officials whose jobs are ultimately determined by the government and the state.
3) Switching ballot locations especially in Kurdish areas:
Suppressing the Kurdish vote is critical for the government... one can expect more shenanigans in Kurdish-majority areas, because Erdogan needs to push the Peoples’ Democratic Party below the 10 percent threshold to ensure that his party wins a majority of seats in parliament.
4) Erdogan now essentially owns the judicial system, the military, and media - all of which will be leveraged:
The Supreme Electoral Council, the judicial system, and the military — until recently Erdogan’s most dedicated nemesis — are all now under Erdogan’s control. The military was completely denuded of its higher ranks following the July 2016 failed coup attempt...
...The national press, meanwhile, is completely dominated by Erdogan’s acolytes. The results are unsurprising: In the last two weeks of May, a study demonstrated that the president and his party received far more coverage on three government-owned television stations, including a Kurdish-language one.
5) No detail has been left untouched, but last minute "shenanigans" will ensure victory if it's close:
Erdogan, the consummate politician, is not leaving anything about this election to chance; no detail has been too small to escape his attention.
...Still, it is quite doubtful that he will allow anything but a total victory for himself — one should expect a great deal of shenanigans on the part of the ruling party in the final run-up to the June 24 vote.