Tensions running high as Turks head to the polls
ISTANBUL - Tensions ran high as Turkey headed towards its fourth election in less than two years after a deadly gun battle between police and radical Islamists and a perceived move by the government to silence critical media before the vote.
The parliamentary poll became necessary after no party emerged with an absolute majority of seats after an election in June and the parties failed to create a coalition. The new election — set for November 1st — will decide whether President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) can cling to power 13 years after its first ballot-box triumph in 2002.
Most polls predict an outcome similar to the June vote, however, making the end of the AKP’s one-party rule a distinct possibility. A senior government official ruled out yet another election if this edition fails to deliver a government. Turks will have voted in local, presidential and two parliamentary elections since March 2014.
With the war in neighbouring Syria escalating following Russia’s military intervention, tensions increasing between Israelis and Palestinians and the growing reach of Ankara’s regional rival Iran, the Turkish election comes at a crucial time for the Middle East.
Observers say a coalition government in Ankara would almost certainly make changes to Turkey’s policies in the region, potentially ending the AKP’s insistence that Syrian President Bashar Assad be removed from power as a precondition to a peace deal.
The Syrian conflict has started to spill over into Turkey, with suspected Islamic State (ISIS) militants killing more than 100 people in a suicide attack at a peace rally by Kurds and government critics in Ankara on October 10th. Two Turkish police officers and seven suspected ISIS members died in a shoot-out in the south-eastern city of Diyarbakir on October 26th.
Tensions fanned further when authorities moved against Koza Ipek Holding, which runs television stations and newspapers critical of the government and installed a pro- AKP manager at the company on October 27th.
Journalists and the opposition said the action was designed to silence critics only days before the elections. Opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the move “harms democracy and damaged respect for the country”.
The US Embassy in Ankara warned freedom of the press and of expression was essential for healthy democratic societies. “When there is a reduction in the range of viewpoints available to citizens, especially before an election, it is a matter of concern,” the embassy said in a statement.