Turkey’s beleaguered Kurdish minority will play a key role in the elections. Polls suggest that Erdoğan will either win a narrow majority or fall just short of the votes needed to secure the office of the presidency, and that his party coalition will claim a majority of seats only if the leftist, Kurdish-led opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) fails to surpass the 10 percent hurdle for obtaining a block in parliament. While most Kurds vote HDP, a sizable minority support AKP. Many fear the sparsely observed and highly securitized Kurdish areas of the southeast will be ground zero for any potential cheating.
In recent days, Erdoğan has launched a fresh offensive on Kurdish guerrillas hiding in northern Iraq, a move opposition politicians alleged showed the lengths Erdoğan would go to secure victory. “If Erdoğan, who has not conducted an operation for 16 years, is conducting an operation [against the Kurds] while 20 days are left to the elections,” Ümit Özdağ, the İyi Party deputy chairman, said in a recent interview, “this is not a military operation but an operation with the aim of political propaganda.”
Even without any election-day shenanigans, Erdoğan is in control. He moved the vote up from November 2019 to the summer, when many of his well-heeled secular opponents take their holidays. One of his strongest opponents, Selahattin Demirtaş, head of the HDP, is currently in pretrial detention on accusations of supporting terrorism. He communicates with voters through social media, but was allowed to address the nation on state television for 10 minutes on Sunday.
And yet, Erdoğan’s opponents are optimistic. Opposition parties have pitched colorful tent cities in Istanbul and other cities, gathered for protests, rain or shine, and driven through the streets in vans, blaring out campaign jingles and handing leaflets to pedestrians on busy commercial streets. Both the CHP candidate, Muharrem Ince, and Aksener seem to be having fun. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands attended a massive rally for Ince in the coastal city of Izmir on Thursday.
Erdoğan, meanwhile, seems tired and off-key. In recent days, he has said voters should vote for him because every Turkish family now owns a refrigerator, which, as his opponents pointed out, has been true for decades. He also vowed to open a network of free coffee houses, an odd promise for a country filled with affordable teahouses, cafes, and eateries. “I am saying that I will open factories, he is saying ‘let us open coffee houses,’” Ince told a rally in early June. “I am promising employment for the youth. He will deliver free cakes.”
Opponents hope to challenge the AKP’s attempts at cheating by positioning at least two trained volunteers at each of Turkey’s ballot boxes. To make their job easier, they also created “Fair Election,” an app that allows each observer to upload details for each ballot box, including the number of votes cast and the names of observers, to a central location overseen by opposition leaders. Based on an analysis of previous elections, they have composed a list of fraud-prone regions. Both the OSCE and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have also dispatched election observers to Turkey.