Turkeys great unknown as panicked Erdogan resorts to branding rival alcoholic

Turkey is facing the “great unknown” as the incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan fights the most significant threat to his political reign in more than two decades. A six-party coalition opposition, headed by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has surged to a four-to-five percent polling advantage going into the final two days of the presidential race. The pressure is clearly getting to Mr Erdogan, who has resorted to peddling deep fake videos of his counterpart and referring to him as an “alcoholic” in a bid to undermine the considerable challenge.

Mr Erdogan’s influence in the region, however, is “deeply rooted”, according to expert James Ryan, and a potential transition of power will be mired in complications and “threatened” by potential civil unrest. The presidential race has already suffered accusations of Russian interference, as well as descending into insults directed towards certain ethnic groups and nationalities.

After one of the four presidential runners, Muharrem Ince, withdrew his candidacy on Thursday, citing a brutal 45 days of character assassination, Politco’s Poll of Polls suggested Mr Kilicdaroglu, with the help of the dropout’s voters, would surpass the 50 percent threshold to win the election outright on Sunday.

Prior to Mr Ince’s withdrawal, Mr Kilicdaroglu’s support was hovering around the 49 percent mark, while Mr Erdogan lagged behind at around 44 percent.

Just under half of Mr Ince’s supporters, roughly 2 percent of the Turkish electorate, are believed to be transferring their support to Mr Kilicdaroglu.

Mr Ryan, writing on Twitter on Thursday evening, said the development “drastically increased” the opposition’s chances of securing a Sunday victory, as opposed to a belated success a fortnight later in a two-way run-off necessary when no candidate surpasses the 50 percent mark.

A first round victory is significant since it would more demonstratively prove that the Turkish electorate is seeking a change in the President; a second round victory for the opposition with a more marginal result would leave space for dispute.

While a first round victory would have Mr Kiricdaroglu winning by four to five percent, according to the polls, a second round, two-man run-off victory would minimise his margin to just one to two percent.

Speaking to Express.co.uk, Mr Ryan said he believed the ease with which a transition of power could take place “really depends on whether Mr Kilicdaroglu wins by one percent or six percent”.

He warned that given the length of Mr Erdogan’s political reign in Turkey, an opposition victory would cast the country into a “great unknown”, and clarity regarding the electorate’s desires was vital in navigating this.

“When it comes to a transition of power,” Mr Ryan said, “Erdogan has been prime minister or president since 2003, and during that time he has shown a willingness to bend the rules of democracy, especially in the last decade to manufacture, to some degree, a mandate for his policies.

“He has also built a very deeply-rooted clientelist network in Turkey. The political interests that are aligned with Erdogan run deep at the association level.

“The very immediate level implication of a victory for the opposition is what kind of challenge is all of that going to pose to a transition of power.”

He suggested three factors, one of which is the margin of victory, would determine what happens in Turkey over the next weeks and months, should Mr Erdogan lose.

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“If the opposition does win, Erdogan and his supporters are going to feel threatened,” he said. “A lot is going to ride on what Kemal Kilicdaroglu says to Erdogan’s supporters in the immediate wake of the election.”

Built into that, Mr Ryan said, was the possibility of dissension among the ranks of Mr Erdogan’s party, the AKP, following a defeat. “We have no idea where alliances really lie underneath Erdogan. We have to assume that he knows but, equally, he might not,” Mr Ryan said.

Fears that Mr Erdogan could try to steal the election are overstated, according to Mr Ryan, but the President “certainly has the tools at his disposal” and there is already concern within the country.

On Thursday, Mr Kilicdaroglu was asked on live television if he believed Mr Erdogan would rightfully hand over power should the opposition win.

He responded: “The people’s will is above everything… A person does not have the luxury to say ‘I ignore the people’s will’.” Despite his defiance, Mr Erdogan’s response remains a great unknown.”

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