Turkish opposition leader drawing huge crowds before elections

As we discussed a couple of weeks back, tomorrow is the date for the first round of national elections in Turkey. While the nation’s current tyrant, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is still the favorite to win in the scant bit of polling available, the race is shaping up to be closer than most observers had expected. The real surprise this month has been the vocal outpouring of support for Erdogan’s leading challenger, Muharrem Ince of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP). He’s been holding a series of rallies to drum up support and get people out to the polls, with one recent event allegedly drawing more than 100,000 people to it. (Yahoo News)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s main rival in Sunday’s polls on Friday challenged the Turkish strongman in a mass rally in the capital Ankara, inviting him for a television debate as a “last chance.”

“Tomorrow is the last evening. If you have the courage, confront me,” Muharrem Ince, a fiery lawmaker from the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), told hundreds of thousands of people in Ankara.

“Look, that’s my last proposal to you … If you want, I can even cancel my Istanbul rally for you. Come, confront me, let’s debate on tv,” he said.

That was the second giant rally the opposition leader addressed within the space of two days.

The really massive rally was held in the Aegean city of Izmir, followed by one in Ankara which overflowed with tens of thousands of people. Unless Erdogan accepts his invitation to debate (which won’t happen) he will be holding another one in Istanbul this afternoon. This guy is turning into the Bernie Sanders of Turkey at this point, with people flooding the streets and overwhelming the capacity of stadiums.

Unfortunately, he will probably achieve the same level of success as Bernie Sanders, and possibly for some of the same reasons. There’s little reason to believe that this election won’t be marred with “mistakes” in vote counts and incidents of Ince supporters being mysteriously turned away when they go to vote. (And that’s if they’re lucky. Erdogan’s opponents and critics have a nasty habit of simply disappearing.) Also, Erdogan does still retain a significant body of support among the more hardline Muslim faithful.

But who knows? As I mentioned in the article linked above, the polling for this race is, to put it kindly, on the thin side. The only external media outlet allowed to conduct a poll had to base it entirely on a single electoral district. The actual margins of error in the sample were likely wide enough that Erdogan could be leading with 65% or losing with 40% at this point. But what happens if Muharrem Ince actually came back with a majority tomorrow night? Would Erdogan voluntarily step down from power at the end of his term after devoting so much effort to remake the powers of his office and rewriting the constitution to effectively allow him to rule for life?

Color me skeptical on that count. I’m not sure precisely what mechanism or excuse the tyrant could or would come up with in that event, but I imagine something “unfortunate” would happen to Ince and the reports of the final vote count would show Erdogan gliding to a fairly substantial victory either way. I’d love to be wrong about all of this, but he’s given us no reason to place any faith in his devotion to actual democracy for several years now.