Last Sunday, a week before the most hotly contested election in modern Turkish history, police stood by as fanatics supporting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pelted opposition politicians and their supporters with stones at a rally that had to be cut short for safety purposes. The scene produced shocking images: the vice-presidential candidate spoke under the shelter of umbrellas as rocks rained down, the campaign bus was smashed, and a small child cried as blood dripped down his face. Instead of condemning the political violence, regime officials said it was the candidate’s own fault for having the gall to deliver a strident campaign speech.
It was a grim preview of worse that could still be coming, and not only for Turkey. Many democracies are now threatened by autocratic populists like Erdogan who refuse to leave office fairly and peacefully, bringing their countries down with them. This is a historic time for the citizens of Turkey and other backsliding democracies to preserve their freedom, and for the United States and other European and NATO allies to speak rapidly, loudly, forcefully as autocratic efforts unfold.