Turkey returns to single-party rule

Friday 30/10/2015
Is it a victory of fear?

ANKARA - Turkey's Justice and Development Party was gearing up Monday to head a single-party government after a stunning election turnaround that strengthens the hand of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but raises concerns about the future of the divided country.

The conservative Islamic-leaning AKP reclaimed the majority it lost just five months ago, confounding opinion polls that had predicted another hung parliament.

Emboldened by the landslide win, Erdogan said the people of Turkey had voted for "stability" after renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels and a wave of bloody jihadist attacks.

Turkish stocks and the lira soared on the results, which ended the political uncertainty stoked by the inconclusive June vote, but many were wary of further polarisation under a more powerful AKP.

"The will of the nation has shown itself in favour of stability," Erdogan told reporters at an Istanbul mosque.

He called for Turks to "remain united" and said the entire world should respect the result.

The European Union, which has often raised concerns about rights and freedoms in the Muslim-majority state, said the vote showed the "strong commitment of the Turkish people to democratic processes".

But the main opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper labelled it a "victory of fear".

Its columnist Can Dundar and said society was now split in two: "Those who are ready to die for Erdogan and those who cannot stand him anymore have been torn apart."

The AKP won almost half the vote to secure 316 seats in the 550-member parliament according to final but unofficial results, easily enough to form a government on its own.

The result is a huge personal victory for the 61-year-old "Sultan", who may now be able to secure enough support for his ambitions to become a US-style executive president.

That has set alarm bells ringing about how much power will rest in the hands of a man who critics say is already showing signs of authoritarian rule by clamping down hard on any opponents, including the media.

Finansbank chief economist Inan Demir said the AKP and Erdogan may adopt "a unifying and inclusive stance", including reviving the collapsed Kurdish peace process.

But he warned they may instead press on with divisive policies such as the presidency plans, "unrelenting pressure on opposing business and media groups, aggressive foreign policy (and a) hardline stance regarding the Kurdish issue."

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu hailed the result as a "victory for democracy".

Speaking to thousands of supporters who waited for hours in the cold to hear him speak from the balcony of AKP headquarters in Ankara, he vowed to protect the rights of all Turkey's 78 million people.

"Let's work together towards a Turkey where conflict, tension and polarisation are non-existent," he said, calling on all parties in parliament to agree on a new civilian constitution to replace a 1980 post-coup military-drafted charter.

AKP supporters honked their horns in celebration but many Turks greeted the result with dismay, and clashes erupted briefly in the main Kurdish city of Diyarbakir between police and angry demonstrators.

"I'm horrified. I don't want to live in this country anymore because I don't know what is awaiting us," said Guner Soganci, 26, a waitress in Istanbul.

The AKP lost its majority for the first time in 13 years in June, when the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) entered parliament for the first time.

The political landscape has changed dramatically since then, with the country even more divided along ethnic, religious and political lines.

Analysts said it appeared voters had turned away from the nationalist and Kurdish parties after a surge in violence between Turkish forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in July led to the collapse of a fragile 2013 truce.

Turkey was also rocked by a string of attacks blamed on the Islamic State group, including twin suicide bombings at an Ankara peace rally last month that killed 102 people -- the bloodiest in Turkey's modern history.

The international community will also be watching Turkey's policy towards neighbouring Syria, after it was cajoled into joining the US-led coalition against IS and launched its own "war on terrorism" against the jihadists, PKK fighters and even US-backed Syrian Kurds.

Erdogan said the result "delivered an important message for the PKK: oppression and bloodshed cannot coexist with democracy".

Support fell for the HDP, which some accuse of being a PKK front, and it only just managed to scrape past the electoral threshold of 10 percent to stay in parliament.

There was also disappointment for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which scored about 25 percent of the vote but had hoped to join a coalition, and support for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also fell.

Another crucial issue for the new administration will be the faltering economy, which has seen growth slow sharply in recent years.

Initial reaction on financial markets was positive.

The lira jumped around four percent to 2.8 against the US dollar, near seven year highs, while stocks soared over five percent.