Turkey’s Existential Election

Posters of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the presidential candidate of the Main Opposition alliance, at Taksim Square in May 2023 in Istanbul, Turkey. (Photo by Burak Kara/Getty Images)

ISTANBUL—Millions of Turkish voters will cast ballots Sunday to either end or extend President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s two-decade rule. His rivals are banking on Turkey’s economic disrepair, corruption, and authoritarian lurch to win over supporters, while Erdoğan is fanning old grievances—including against the United States and its allies—to hold onto power.

“We need to teach America a lesson,” Erdoğan said recently, calling on his base to vote by doubling down on a claim that the United States is backing his rival, Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu.

Turkish Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu took the accusations of American meddling a step further during a campaign event last month, charging the West with plotting to overthrow Erdoğan via the election. “July 15 was their actual coup attempt,” Soylu said in reference to Turkey’s failed military putsch in July 2016, which he and other government officials have baselessly blamed on the U.S. “And May 14 is their political coup attempt. It is a coup attempt that can be formed by bringing together all preparations to eliminate Turkey.”

Binali Yıldırım, Turkey’s former prime minister and a failed Istanbul mayoral candidate for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), warned this week of election interference by America, Europe, “devils,” and other alleged foes. 

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