Target HDP voters, control polling stations, Erdoğan tells AKP behind closed doors

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been caught on film during a private meeting instructing his party’s neighbourhood leaders on tactics to use in the upcoming Jun. 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, raising fears the party could take extraordinary measures to gain an advantage.

The elections are seen as crucial by Erdoğan and the opposition, since they usher in a new executive presidential system that some say have the potential to cement Erdoğan’s place in power for decades if he wins.

Footage of Erdoğan speaking at the event emerged on Wednesday after several attendees uploaded images captured on their mobile phones. Erdoğan is seen discussing the party’s approach to voters for a rival party and advising party representatives to “take control” of polling stations.

The footage was shot during a conference organised for the party's local leaders at the AKP's Istanbul Provincial Directorate on Sunday Jun. 10, according to journalist Metin Cihan, who shared one of the videos on social media sites.

AKP officials should arrive before rival party officials at the polling stations in case there is an opportunity to serve as the electoral observers. In this way the AKP will be able to “gain command” of the ballot boxes, Erdoğan said.

At one point in his speech, captured by another what appears to be a phone camera, the president tells the audience to target voters for the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), one of four parties represented in Turkish parliament that are currently campaigning for the Jun. 24 presidential and parliamentary elections.

 “Our party organisation needs to approach the HDP in a very different way.  I wouldn’t say this openly [in public], but this is why I’m talking to you here. If they fall below the electoral threshold, it puts us in a very good position,” said the president.

According to Turkish electoral law, parties must receive at least 10 percent of the vote to obtain representation in parliament. Parties which do not pass the threshold – the world’s highest – must forfeit any seats in parliament they won to larger parties, with the AKP standing to gain most by the HDP dropping out of parliament.

Erdoğan instructed his party officials to work with local party representatives, who he said should have lists of who in their area votes for the HDP, in order to target these voters.

While Erdoğan does not go into details on how he expects his party members to deal with the HDP voters, the context of the quote and his word use have elicited suspicions that their methods could go beyond typical electoral canvassing. Erdogan asked from his party activists that they should "start a special work on them would bring a different result." 

The AKP has damaged its relations with many voters from the HDP’s largely Kurdish base after presiding over a heavy-handed response to an insurrection by armed groups linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), and jailing many HDP politicians including the party’s former co-chairs.