Turkish opposition accuses Russia of election interference ahead of vote day

Turkey’s leading opposition candidate has accused Russia of election interference days before the country’s most consequential vote in a generation.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu of the Republican People’s party (CHP), the chief rival to the incumbent president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accused Russia of concocting deepfake videos and false material, seemingly a reference to an allegedly fake sex tape of candidate Muharrem Ince, released a day before he dropped out of the race.

“If you want the continuation of our friendship after 15 May, get your hands off the Turkish state,” said Kilicdaroglu, adding: “We are still in favour of cooperation and friendship.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov rejected claims of election interference. “We officially declare: there can be no talk of any interference,” he said. “If someone provided Mr Kilicdaroglu with such information, they are liars.”

Turkish voters will go to the polls on 14 May to cast their ballots for both the president and parliament. Re-electing Erdogan would provide a mandate for him to further concentrate power around his office, crack down on opponents, and use his position of influence on the world stage to harden his control at home.

Current polling suggests a tight vote in the presidential election, where one candidate must secure more than 50% to win outright, or the race will go to a runoff two weeks later.

Erdogan, who previously lashed out at the US ambassador Jeff Flake for publicly meeting with Kilicdaroglu, has declared that “Turkey will give a message to the west with this election.” His interior minister, Suleyman Soylu, went even further, describing the vote on 14 May as “a political coup attempt by the west”.

The six-party opposition coalition led by Kilicdaroglu has campaigned on the promise of reform, and the dismantling of a sprawling system of control that Erdogan has spent two decades building. Under Erdogan’s leadership, Turkey transformed into a presidential system supported by a vast patronage network loyal to his Justice and Development party (AKP), rebuffing an attempted military coup in 2016 and often branding his opponents enemies of the state. Erdogan has also increased Turkey’s footprint overseas and reshaped its economy in his image, overseeing vast infrastructure projects and development but also an economic crisis in which the Turkish lira has halved in value in the past year alone.

“As we get closer to the vote, I feel excited but also responsible for the fate of 85 million people across Turkey,” said Canan Kilicdaroglu, a leading member of the CHP, currently weathering a ban from politics after a court charged her with insulting Erdogan. Despite the ban, Kilicdaroglu has continued to work, aiding Kilicdaroglu in his fight for the presidency by overseeing efforts to ensure a fair election.

“I believe this election will set an example, not just for Turkey but for the whole world. For the first time, an authoritarian regime will be taken out by democracy,” she said. “If we succeed, it will set an example for other countries struggling for their own democracies.”

The possibility of a one-round race with potentially a victor as early as Sunday increased slightly after İnce dropped out, leaving only the small margin of votes held by the ultranationalist Sinan Ogan of the Victory party to spoil the chances of either candidate reaching the threshold for a runoff.

News Code 159008

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