Erdogan rival accuses Russia of interference in election

Published May 13, 2023
Turkish presidential candidate Kemal Kilicd­aroglu. — Screengrab from video on Twitter/@kilicdarogluk
Turkish presidential candidate Kemal Kilicd­aroglu. — Screengrab from video on Twitter/@kilicdarogluk

ANKARA: Kemal Kilicd­aroglu, main challenger of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, claimed on Friday his party has concrete evidence of Russia’s responsibility for the release of “deep fake” online content ahead of Sunday’s presidential elections.

Kilicdaroglu, who has a slight poll lead over Erdogan two days ahead of the election, told Reuters in an interview it was unacceptable for Russia to interfere in Turkiye’s internal affairs, but added that should he become president he would maintain Ankara’s good ties with Moscow.

Asked why he tweeted on Thursday that Russia was responsible for fake online content, a bold move, Kilicdaroglu said: “If we did not have it (concrete evidence), I wouldn’t have tweeted.”

 Screengrab of Kilicdaroglu’s tweet made on May 11 along with its Google translation.
Screengrab of Kilicdaroglu’s tweet made on May 11 along with its Google translation.

His party did not contact the Russian embassy over the issue, he added. He did not elaborate on what the online content was.

Kremlin denies allegations of meddling

One presidential candidate from a small party, Muharrem Ince, withdrew on Thursday citing a faked “character assassination” carried out online. He gave few details.

Russia denies interfering

Russia has been accused in the past of meddling in foreign elections, including in the United States, which Moscow denies.

Turkiye’s vote on Sunday shapes up as the most consequential in its modern history, with huge implications for Ankara’s global standing, strategic alliances and economic direction.

“We find it unacceptable for another country to interfere in Turkey’s election process in favour of a political party. I wanted the whole world to be aware of this, that is why I made this call openly by a tweet,” Kilicdaroglu said in an interview.

The Kremlin later denied interfering. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the people who had passed on such allegations to Kilicdaroglu were liars and that Russia valued its ties with Turkiye enormously.

Kilicdaroglu wore a steel vest for an election rally on Friday on “intelligence that he could be attacked”, a source from his party said.

Erdogan has been trying to rally his base ahead of elections Sunday that put his Islamic style of rule in the largest Muslim-majority member of Nato on the line.

Opinion surveys show Kilicdaroglu with a slight advantage and within a whisker of breaking the 50-per cent threshold needed to avoid a runoff on May 28.

Erdogan was uncharacteristically coy about making predictions about the outcome of Turkiye’s most consequential election of modern times. “The ballot box will tell us Sunday,” he said.

He warned that Kilicdaroglu’s opposition alliance was driven by “vengeance and greed”. He alleged that Western governments were using the opposition to impose their will on how Turkish society worked.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2023

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