Turkey’s elections are less than a month away. Polls vary, but many show President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has dominated the country for two decades, losing. The chances that Erdogan will step down, however, are between zero and none. Erdogan sees himself, quite literally, as on a mission from God. “I am the servant of the sharia [Islamic law],” he once explained. The power has gone to his head, and ideology has warped it. The idea that ordinary people whom he sees as beneath him might oust him in a democratic election is unfathomable.
The United States and the West must be prepared.
Consider this scenario: Either during the first-round vote on May 14 or, if no candidate surpasses 50% then, during a second round on May 28, main opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu ekes out a narrow victory.
Commentators explain how, despite Erdogan’s get-out-the-vote drive, inflation and financial mismanagement led many in the conservative business community to abandon him. Kilicdaroglu may lack charisma, but after decades of Erdogan, Turks concluded boring could be good. Support for two minor candidates fizzled. While Kurds are normally hostile to the Republican People’s Party due to its historic complicity in their repression, they held their nose and voted for Kilicdaroglu. The Kurds’ anger and disgust at Erdogan’s assault against their co-ethnics in Syria trumped their antipathy to the CHP. That imprisoned Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas has said there is hope for a comprehensive peace in a post-Erdogan Turkey pushed additional fence-sitters into Kilicdaroglu’s camp.
At midnight, however, as Turks from Diyarbakir to Istanbul pour into the streets to celebrate a new chance at democracy, Erdogan appears on television to claim victory. The poll workers who tallied the votes were adherents of rival theologian Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan says. At 7 a.m. the next day, three poll workers appear on television, handcuffed with the Turkish flag in the background, confessing to their role.
Later that day, Turkish state media broadcast news of telephone calls or statements from the leaders of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan congratulating Erdogan on his reelection. Europe is silent with the exception of Viktor Orban in Hungary, who also congratulates Erdogan.
In central Istanbul, anti-government protests erupt in Taksim, a stone’s throw from where the Gezi Park protests erupted a decade ago. Some protesters wave Turkish flags and portraits of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Others wave rainbow flags and hold pictures of Kilicdaroglu. In the alleys along the square, riot police gather. Soon, tear gas wafts throughout the area. Tourists can smell it even downhill along the banks of the Bosporus.
The silence from Brussels and Washington infuriates Erdogan. Supporters and rent-a-mobs gather outside the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul and the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey. Rumors spread via pro-Erdogan social media that U.S. servicemen at Incirlik Air Base helped manipulate the results. Crowds soon surround the base, demanding American blood. Just outside of Istanbul, someone paints a big red crescent on the Greek Orthodox Halki Seminary. Within a week, security forces arrest Kilicdaroglu and imprison the mayors of Istanbul and Ankara on false charges of involvement with what Erdogan begins to call the 2023 coup.
As Erdogan clings to power, cracks begin to show. Germany, always fearful that Erdogan might incite the Turkish diaspora to violence, secretly authorizes its ambassador to meet Erdogan’s ministers, if not publicly Erdogan himself. In Washington, many think tankers refuse to take a clear stand for fear that they might lose access to Turkey. A Hudson Institute panel suggests Erdogan might be right and, regardless, Turkey is too important to NATO to sacrifice because of a disputed vote.
While Secretary of State Antony Blinken expresses grave concern about election integrity and calls for Kilicdaroglu’s release from prison, photographers later catch a smiling President Joe Biden chatting with Erdogan at the July 2023 NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Back to the present: Turkey is no democracy, and Erdogan is no democrat. He will cheat and try to flip a loss into a win. The question for the White House is whether it is prepared.
This post was originally published here by the Washington Examiner.
The views and opinions expressed above are the author’s and do not reflect those of the Free Turkish Press.