Rerun of Turkish poll unlikely to restore stability
Istanbul - After a campaign marked by violence and sharp divisions, Turkey goes to the polls for the second time this year in an election that is unlikely to bring political stability.
Following months of deadly clashes in the Kurdish region and the worst terrorist attack in Turkey’s history, in which more than 100 people were killed in Ankara on October 10th, the pre-election atmosphere is subdued. A rally by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Istanbul on October 25th drew fewer people than previous similar events.
“There is a sense of fear and political crisis,” said a government official who asked not to be named.
Turks are to cast their ballots on November 1st in a rerun of a June parliamentary election that produced no majority for a single group. The AKP lost its majority in the house for the first time since it rose to power almost 13 years ago.
Now the AKP is hoping it can regain control of parliament and capture enough seats to push through constitutional changes to introduce an executive presidency, Erdogan’s long-term strategic aim. Most polls, however, predict that new election will result in another hung parliament. Erdogan, de facto leader of the AKP, has the power to order another election if no government can be formed.
Surveys conducted in mid-October suggested that the AKP will remain the strongest party with 41- 42% of the vote, followed by the secularist Republican People’s Party (CHP) at 27-28%, the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) with 15% and the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) at 12-13%. Such a result might not be enough for the AKP to win an outright majority of seats.
“All options are on the table,” the government official said. “There will be either a coalition or a slim AKP majority.”
More political mayhem could be ahead, observers say. “Let’s say the AKP will gain a majority by a whisker; can we expect four years of stability with that?” asked Fehmi Koru, a columnist with the Haberturk newspaper. In case the AKP fails to win back its majority in the house and has to form a coalition, it is questionable whether such an alliance would be stable enough, he added. “Or will there be another election?”
The government official ruled out yet another rerun, saying, “people are tired of elections”. Turkey has seen local elections, presidential elections and now two parliamentary elections since spring 2014.
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, the official AKP leader, says he is confident his party will be able to increase its share of the vote from the 41% it gained in June.
“There is an upward trend in our votes,” he said recently. However, a transcript of a meeting of high-ranking AKP officials, quoted by Nokta magazine, suggested that party leaders are concerned about a drop in popular appeal for the AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002.
A survey by the Gezici Research and Polling Company indicated that a majority of voters say Erdogan is to blame for failed efforts to put together a coalition after the June election. News reports and opposition leaders have said Erdogan pushed for the November 1st poll because he was convinced the AKP could do better.
The run-up to the new election has been overshadowed by violence. Fighting between the military and rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) has killed several hundred people since July. A twin suicide attack in Ankara on a rally of parties and groups critical of the government on October 10th took more than 100 lives.
Following the attack, the HDP, one of the parties that organised the demonstration, cancelled its election rallies. The AKP, however, pushed on with mass assemblies. “We are not abandoning market squares,” Davutoglu told a recent AKP meeting in the north-western city of Bursa.
HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas accused the government of playing a role in the attack that investigators say was carried out by supporters of the Islamic State (ISIS). In an effort to put pressure on the HDP before the vote, Erdogan suggested that the PKK, in cooperation with Syrian Kurds and ISIS, orchestrated the attack under orders of the Syrian intelligence service. Critics say that theory is absurd, given that the Kurds and ISIS are sworn enemies.
Divisions in Turkish society are deepening as positions of both friends and foes of the AKP are becoming more entrenched while perceived efforts by the government to stifle dissent are seen to be increasing before the election.
Digiturk, the country’s biggest satellite television platform, threw out several stations that have been critical of the AKP. Courts blocked the publication of more transcripts of internal AKP meetings by Nokta. A 14-year-old was arrested for allegedly insulting Erdogan. A Gezici poll found that two out of three Turks live in fear of the president.
With rumours about alleged preparations by the AKP to rig the vote spreading, a non-governmental organisation called Vote and Beyond has attracted 50,000 volunteers to watch polling stations and vote counting to prevent manipulation. Media close to the government have accused Vote and Beyond of being anti-AKP.