The Turkish opposition accuses Russia of interfering in the elections

The Turkish opposition accuses Russia of interfering in the elections in favor of Erdogan

The main opposition candidate in Turkey’s presidential elections on Sunday, center-left candidate Kemal Kiliçdaroglu, has accused Russia of interfering in the election campaign in support of Turkey’s president, Islamist Recep Tayyip Erdogan, by manipulating videos. The polls suggest Erdogan could lose power for the first time in 20 years, despite his opponent’s narrow lead.

Because of this, the campaign, which started almost two months ago, became more and more severe as it progressed, with mutual accusations, attacks and evil deeds. The president himself has twice aired a montage – at a rally and on a TV show – in which the leader of the Kurdish armed group PKK, Murat Karayilan, takes part in an opposition election campaign video. “Kiliçdaroglu stands behind the man who commands the terrorist organization. He says “Let’s go,” and the other also replies “Let’s go,” Erdogan denounced on the TV show, trying to convince his followers that the video was real.

Despite the crudeness of the setup, this link between the opposition and the PKK — an organization viewed by Turkey and the EU as a terrorist — constantly reiterated by the pro-government alliance candidates and their affiliated media, is with Erdogan ubiquitous to followers. The political polarization the country is experiencing has turned the media landscape into simple sounding boards, and it is very difficult for voters on either side to expose themselves to narratives that are far from what they think.

As EL PAÍS was able to verify in various provinces, voters for the president are convinced that if the opposition wins, the founder of the PKK, Abdullah Öcalan, who was captured and imprisoned for life in 1999, will be released. Two sources from different opposition parties have confirmed this: “There are many on the street who say to me: ‘You seem like a good guy, why are you collaborating with the terrorists’,” laments a member of the nationalist IYI party: “It we find it really difficult to get our message across to AKP voters.”

Sex, lies and deepfake videos

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Kiliçdaroglu warned last week that the AKP, with the help of international hackers, was preparing to use deepfake videos. On Thursday, he went even further, directly accusing Moscow of being involved in the production of false propaganda in a tweet written in Turkish and Russian: “Dear Russian friends. They are behind the fake news leaked in this country, the conspiracies and the deepfake tapes. If you want us to remain friends on May 15th, keep your hands off the Turkish state.”

The opposition candidate did not specify exactly what he meant by these words, but when asked, his party MP Tuncay Özkan explained that he was referring to the person who linked Kiliçdaroglu with the PKK. “We see that this government is working with Russian hackers and that Russia clearly supports Erdogan to ensure preferential treatment of his economic interests,” Özkan said. Last year Moscow sent the Turkish central bank billions of euros to build the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, but these were essential for the Erdogan government to keep the value of the Turkish lira stable. In addition, Turkey’s Energy Ministry announced in recent weeks that it has reached an agreement to postpone payment of more than 500 million euros worth of gas imports until next year. The reason for this is that Turkey has become a key country for Vladimir Putin when it comes to finding ways to circumvent Western sanctions imposed after his invasion of Ukraine.

Another fake video is also causing controversy in Turkey’s elections. It is a tape containing sexual content about Muharrem Ince, who was the CHP’s 2018 presidential candidate but later left the centre-left formation and presented himself as a presidential candidate in those elections despite the failure of the opposition to do so. so as not to split the anti-Erdogan voice.

Ince resigned from the election campaign this Thursday, claiming he was suffering from a campaign of “insults” and “false allegations” (it’s also true that his voting intention has fallen below 2% according to the polls). He also asserted that the video circulating was false and linked the conspiracy to the brotherhood of US-exiled Turkish preacher Fethullah Gülen, formerly allied with Erdogan and later declared a terrorist organization.

This link is due to the fact that the person announcing the release of this and other videos with sexual content (he also promised one of the leaders of the far-right party MHP with his driver and several commentators close to Erdogan) is a Twitter account under the name of Ali Yesildag, the brother of a close aide of the Turkish president who is now accused of siding with Gülen’s organization. Yesildag appeared in a YouTube video last week in which he denounced Erdogan’s corruption and promised more information.

Erdogan’s government has accused Kiliçdaroglu of using sex videos to get rid of his rivals, recalling that he became president of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) in 2010 after his predecessor Deniz Baykal resigned after a video leaked. in this case: extramarital relationships. Members of the Gülen organization who had been smuggled into the state (they were still allies of Erdogan at the time) were also accused of this illegal recording.

But the plot is even more complicated, like almost everything in Turkish politics. Yesildag assured in his videos that he has no accounts on other social networks. An analysis of the Twitter account announcing these videos by Tugrulcan Elmas, a researcher into social media manipulation, laments that he previously posted under different names and attacked members of the opposition, whom he suspects are this could be an AKP-owned false flag operation. “We don’t know where the video came from if it’s from FETÖ [gülenistas] or by the Russians,” says Özkan, the CHP MP.

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