Fahrettin Altun, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s director of communications, said on Friday that a recent article published in Foreign Policy that claimed Erdoğan might be too ill to run for re-election in 2023 was “fake news.”
“Fake news used to be a problem on social media. It seems that the mainstream media, too, suffers from the same issue now. That even major organizations spread such lies is deeply concerning,” Altun tweeted, along with a screenshot of the article written by Steven A. Cook, an expert on the Middle East and Africa.
In his article Cook stated that evidence raising some obvious questions about Erdoğan’s health was growing, enumerating recent incidents where the president is seen needing the assistance of his wife and an aide as he negotiates a set of stairs, seeming to shuffle and have some difficulty walking at Anıtkabir, the mausoleum of Turkey’s founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and fading out and slurring his words during a televised holiday greeting to members of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).
He pointed to the possibility that another strongman could rule a post-Erdoğan Turkey, listing National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Interior Minister Süleyman Soylu among the possible candidates for the office.
Following publication of the article, Erdoğan shared a video of him playing basketball on his Telegram channel. In the video he wears uniform number 15 with “R. Tayyip Erdoğan” printed on it. He is also the team captain and is seen encouraging his teammates.
The president was joined by former NBA star and current Turkish Basketball Federation (TBF) head Hidayet Türkoğlu.
Critics interpreted the move as a bid to dismiss the speculation about Turkey’s pugnacious leader, whose 19-year rule may be contested in the 2023 elections as many Turks grapple with poverty and inflation, and support from his base appears to be declining by the day.