Turkish government clamps down on opponents after poll
ISTANBUL - Bolstered by a landslide election victory, Turkey’s government says it is reaching out to critics to heal the deep polarisation in society but observers are sceptical as pressure on journalists, Kurds and others was stepped up immediately after the vote.
Following the triumph of his Justice and Development Party (AKP) in November 1st parliamentary elections, in which it captured 49.5% of the vote and 317 out of 550 seats in parliament, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu promised the government would work for all citizens, not just AKP voters. “There are no losers in this election,” Davutoglu said on November 3rd.
Critics accuse the government, however, of limiting free speech by moving against media critical of the AKP and of undermining the rule of law by firing and reassigning thousands of judges, prosecutors and police officers in recent years.
President and AKP founder Recep Tayyip Erdogan was criticised after he suspended peace talks with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and ordered a military crackdown after militants started a new wave of attacks against security forces in July.
Observers of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said government critics had been at a disadvantage during the election period. “Media freedom remains an area of serious concern and the number of criminal investigations of journalists and the closure of some media outlets reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views and information,” the OSCE said.
With the election over, there are signs that Ankara will stick to its tough line even after the criticism and Davutoglu’s pledges of a softer approach.
Two days after the vote, two editors of the Nokta magazine were put into pretrial detention over an article that declared the AKP win would be the “start of civil war” in Turkey.
Prosecutors ordered the detention of 44 officials and police officers suspected of being followers of Fethullah Gulen, a US-based Turkish Islamic scholar accused by the government of planning a coup against the AKP. The Turkish military also said its jets resumed bombing of PKK positions in south-eastern Turkey and northern Iraq.
AKP critics say those developments showed Davutoglu’s promises were empty. Turkey had “returned to its old state” after the election, the Cumhuriyet daily said on November 4th.
Nazli Ilicak, a former lawmaker and AKP supporter turned government critic, addressed Davutoglu in a column for the T24 news portal, telling the prime minister: “Your ears should hear what your mouth is saying.”
Perihan Magden, a Nokta contributor, said Erdogan does not tolerate opposition. “I thought that, with a voter share of 49%, Erdogan would return to his more democratic stance of the old days but he has no intention of doing so,” she said.