As a result of the presidential elections that were held in Turkey in May, Recep Tayyip Erdogan got re-elected as president of Turkey. This presidential election took place in two rounds, as none of the candidates received more than 50% of the votes during the first round. The main battle was between two candidates: President Erdoğan and Kemal Kilicdaroglu [Kılıçdaroğlu], the candidate of the “Nation Alliance” representing six opposition parties.
The Turkish presidential election was in the center of the US’s attention because of the significant tensions in US-Turkish relations in various fields under Erdogan’s rule. Erdogan seeks to minimize Western influence on Turkey and its economy, pursuing freedom of action in the Middle East, South Caucasus, Central Asia and a deepening of relations with Russia. That is why a different pro-Western figure in Turkey is preferable for the West.
Kilicdaroglu had all the chances to become such a pro-Western figure with whom the West hoped to develop less problematic relations. However, the United States did not openly endorse Kilicdaroglu in the elections. Instead, the US took a more cautious approach, realizing the high probability of Erdogan’s re-election. After all, Erdogan has been at the helm of the country since 2003, firstly as prime minister, and then as president of the country. With vast state resources and a large army of supporters at his disposal, Erdogan managed to defeat his main rival Kilicdaroglu, securing his rule until 2028.
At this stage, it is extremely important to look at Washington’s reaction to the Turkish elections in order to understand the messages behind the official statements and US mass media coverage of the election. It will be presented below, in the state, think-tank and mass media spheres.
United States-Turkey relations have appeared strained in recent years, which is largely related to Erdogan’s personality and the latter’s deepening relations with Russia. Erdogan’s re-election as president is also seen by him and his supporters as a blow to the West, particularly the United States, which, according to Erdogan, tried to interfere in Turkey’s elections and promote his main opponent. Erdogan particularly resented the fact that the US ambassador in Ankara had a meeting with his political rival Kilicdaroglu. This was considered an intervention in Turkey’s elections by endorsing Kilicdaroglu. Thus, even during the election campaign, Erdogan and his supporters targeted the US and talked about the need to “teach them a lesson.”
Nevertheless, when the elections in Turkey were still ongoing, US officials avoided further commenting on the issue and even voicing their preferences, being wary of possible aggravation of the relations with Erdogan. During the press conferences of the US State Department, questions related to the elections in Turkey were regularly raised. However, the spokesman consistently reiterated the US official position that the United States “will continue to work together with the government chosen by the Turkish people to deepen our cooperation on a number of shared priorities.”