Atilla Yesilada:  Can Erdogan steal the elections?

A YouTube video with the thumbnail “election stealing scandal” circulates from channel to channel in Turkey, with each commentator embellishing  it with his/her own pet theft conspiracies. For instance,   Erdogan’s relaxed attitude (whatever that means) is attributed to    the fact that he has already hijacked the elections and pocketed another five years in power. Abroad, both Turkish and foreign commentators are constantly working on the thesis that “Erdogan does not lose elections, he will definitely pull a rabbit out of the hat”.

In this article, I will try prove that it is impossible for Erdogan to cheat in the election. But “theft”  or “power grab” is a broader concept. If Erdogan loses, will  High Election Council (HEC) order a re-election? Or  for example, can Erdogan officially announce  his dictatorship by declaring Martial Law and calling the Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) to duty to control the streets?

Let’s look at the current situation in the election race, first. Kilicdaroglu (KK) wins the vast majority of the presidential election polls since the earthquake. Anatolian people have made their decision, they don’t want to live with Erdogan anymore, game over. Erdogan has no weapons  to change this balance. His ongoing and massive  economic populism melts away instantly  by creating more inflation and currency instability. His traditional social polarization methods are consumed or lost their credibility in a society which organizes along economic class struggle nowadays.

The situation is very different in the parliamentary elections. The Nation Alliance (NA) parties are a few points ahead of AKP-MHP and New Welfare Party (Erdogan’s new ally, an unreformed fundamentalist fringe party) on AVERAGE, but this is not enough to gain a majority in the Grand Assembly of Turkey, because the D’Hondt  system, enriched with  national flavors,  was specifically designed to keep Erdogan and Bahçeli in power. The NA has 2 tasks ahead to circumvent the minefield called the electoral system:

  • NA members IYIP and DEVA ought to climb down from their high horses to agree on district-based joint lists that will maximize seats in each constituency.
  • NA leaders and 2 CHP mayors, who have an unbeatable stamina advantage on the field against Erdogan and Bahçeli, must explain very well how they will fix the economy.

Will they succeed? I will be able to answer this question only in the beginning of April, but the purpose of the above lines is to emphasize that Erdogan and his acolytes will risk everything to win the election, because they will be wiped out of politics if they lose.

How can I boldly claim that  elections cannot be stolen, if Erdogan and Bahceli will not shy away from any foul play,  in particular when in the past many elections have been stolen? The main thesis of the election theft conspiracy video is this: “Sealed bags filled with fake votes will be changed on the way to the election board headquarters, and fake tallies are ready at the HEC.”

I’m laughing my bottom off, because these conspiracy theorists forgot about the invention of the smartphone. As soon as the official ballot station tally is posted at the door of each station, it is photographed by monitors and downloaded to the database at  party centers. If the distribution of votes reaching opposition parties differs from the HEC results, this place will turn to Iran in 2009. Experience shows how the attempts to steal elections are met with hatred and backfired in our nation.  See 2019 Istanbul municipal elections for an example.

Let me answer other election manipulation allegations  though these are not included in the conspiracy theory I mentioned above: “Millions of Syrians have been granted citizenship. They will all vote for Erdogan”. No one seems to remember  that only 150,000 citizens of Syrian origin have the right to vote. Even CHP laughed at this claim, its reps stating, “We have all of their names,” which shocked even HEC, which publicly complained about leaks from its data base.

Another claim is that only 350 thousand of the more than 3 million citizens who migrated from the earthquake region registered at the electoral offices, while the rest, who are victims of Erdogan’s zoning policies that increased the damage of the earthquake and inadequate relief efforts, cannot vote. The first part of the claim is true. The second is debatable, and very much so. Are those who migrated from the earthquake zone really the ones whose houses were destroyed or those who are well-off?

Could it be that real earthquake victims live in tent cities, around debris, and in container cities? It is difficult to give a definitive answer to this question without  empirical research at our disposal. But, let me state this simple truth: AKP’s vote advantage over other parties in the earthquake zone, except for Hatay, is above the Turkey average. It is reasonable to assume that migrants also fit into this distribution. Then, the burden  of not renewing voter rolls will be borne by the Republican Alliance.

Finally, while an NGO called Oy ve Ötesi (Vote and Beyond) is ready for  ballot box inspection with 100 thousand volunteers, it was forgotten that NA has been doing meticulous and detailed studies for ballot  security since its establishment. IN SUMMARY: Erdogan cannot steal the election. But can he apply pressure on HEC to have them repeated? Can he grab power using the TAF and the police?


I can’t say, “He can’t, here’s my empirical proof for you.” But the burden of proving that Erdogan will usurp the election is on the claimant anyway. It cannot be taken lightly to put forth that the most important institutions of the state such as the HEC, the Supreme Court, TAF and police will support Erdogan in an illegitimate attempt by committing a constitutional crime. I do not need to prove the opposite; the proponent of this theory has the burden of proof.

The advocates of these claims are using the assumption that the HEC and the Supreme (Constitutional) Court, which remained silent in the face of the HEC’s approval of Erdogan’s candidacy for the third time,  a clear violation of the Constitution, the 2019 Istanbul local elections and countless other  violations of rule of law, will also cooperate in the election heist. May be, but there is no logical reason for thinking so. Condoning a constitutional violation by a leader who is still in power, who will probably stay in power for another five years and will confer benefits upon the  obedient civil servant is possible. But, supporting a leader who has lost an election and the backing of the nation, is old and is unlikely to provide you with long-term legal protection even if he wins is a different ball game. If, for any reason, Erdogan retires in a year or two, or if the majority in the Grand Assembly of Turkey is captured  by NA  and the Kurdish led Labor and Freedom bloc, everyone involved in the heist attempt will be prosecuted.

Let’s try to understand the motivations of the TAF in a rational way.  Let’s assume an order came to the generals to take over the streets to help Erdogan steal the election . What does a General think? “IF I support Erdogan, IF he stays in power, I will be promoted, perhaps when I retire, I will be placed in a high-paying plum job. But rewards are not certain, because Erdogan is a sworn enemy of the military”.

“IF I support Erdogan and he  lost, what will I lose? Or what happens if he dies or  retires in 1-2 years, which are not unrealistic, given his poor health. Then the I will be prosecuted, receive a life sentence, my  pension will be cut off, and even my property may be confiscated. See the problem with aiding Erdogan?  The potential costs far outweigh the foreseeable rewards.

Remember that like any army, TAF is the institution where the most unbreakable friendships are established.  Current  top brass has witnessed the arrest, sacking or purging of  half of their brothers in arms under false pretenses, or simply because they failed to please Erdogan. WHY should any  soldier support Erdogan?

The readers need to understand that the General Staff  has no financial interest in Erdogan’s career, because military tenders, where bribes are taken, are organized by the Undersecretariat for Defense Industries reporting to Erdogan.  Unlike the cases of Iran, Venezuela and Egypt the Army is not a stakeholder in Erdogan’s corrupt regime.

And my final justification: There are fundamentalists  and communists among the generals. But being a general in this army requires at least 30 years of service, one cannot be promoted from outside the military rank and file. The young people who entered the military academies 30 years ago were chosen from the Kemalists and were brain-washed with the doctrine of Kemalism for at least 20 years. What is the reason to think that a majority of them have suddenly turned Islamist?


Turkey has descended  to a state of utter chaos where ordinary rules of analysis don’t predict well, I accept that. But hypotheticals based on assumptions which cannot  be logically defended are a very poor  method to reach conclusions.


Atilla Yesilada


Follow our  English language YouTube videos  @ REAL TURKEY:

And content at Twitter: @AtillaEng

Facebook:  Real Turkey Channel:





Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.