Turkish President’s party is working overtime trying to reclaim its parliamentary majority
ISTANBUL: A week ahead of Turkey’s second election in five months, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party is working overtime to try to reclaim its parliamentary majority, in a climate of tension fuelled by the Ankara attacks and the reignited Kurdish conflict.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, leader of the dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP), was holding a mass campaign rally in Istanbul, hoping to drum up enough support to defy the opinion polls that predict a replay of the June vote on November 1.
Police and private security teams were out in force, with Turkey still on edge after the October 10 bombings in the heart of the capital, the worst in the country’s history.
Adding to the jitters, Turkish security forces are hunting four suspected members of the Islamic State group, including a German woman, who have crossed from Syria, media reports say.
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The four belong to the same cell behind the Ankara carnage and are feared to be plotting a major attack “such as hijacking a plane or a vessel or detonating suicide bombs in a crowded location,” the Anatolia news agency said Saturday.
Although several thousand party faithful turned out in Istanbul on Sunday, waving Turkish and AKP flags, numbers were far lower than at previous rallies.
“We have no alternative (to the AKP), there can be no stability without them,” beautician Makbule Cengiz said.
The outcome of the last election stunned the AKP, which after 13 years dominating the political scene won just 40.6 percent of the vote and lost its absolute control of parliament, partly due to the strong performance of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The result was also a major personal defeat for Erdogan, seen by critics as increasingly authoritarian as he seeks to expand his role into a powerful US-style executive presidency.
After failing to form a government following the June 7 vote, Davutoglu is pounding the election trail once more — but facing a vastly different landscape, with the country more polarised than ever.
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Since late July, fierce fighting has erupted between Turkish security forces and the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), shattering a fragile peace process launched three years ago.
Fear is also stalking the streets after the double suicide bombing on a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara that killed 102 people and has been blamed on IS.
It followed another deadly bombing in a mainly Kurdish town on the Syrian border in July that thrust Turkey into a “war on terrorism” against both IS extremists and Kurdish rebels.
Latest opinion polls give the AKP between 40 and 43 percent of the vote but under half of the 550 seats in parliament — a result which would again force it to share power or organise yet another election.
Erdogan, the long-serving prime minister turned president, is now criss-crossing the country, telling the people he is the guarantor of security and unity in Turkey: “It’s me or chaos”.
“We will not allow this country to be swallowed by the fire raging in the region, we will not allow it become a country where treachery thrives,” he said.
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The conservative Islamic-rooted party, once credited with rebuilding Turkey after years of political instability and a financial crisis, is now grappling with a security crisis and the fallout from the war in Syria — including a massive influx of refugees.
But analysts say the run-up to the election has been low-key, with few people handing out campaign leaflets on the streets and the fear of attacks curbing major public rallies by the smaller parties.
The AKP has declared the HDP — led by the charismatic Selahattin Demirtas — its number one enemy in the election campaign, branding it an accomplice of the PKK “terrorists”.
The opposition in turn has accused Erdogan of security lapses over the Ankara attack and failing to crack down on IS, and laid the blame for the resumption of the Kurdish conflict squarely at his door.
“The state is a serial killer,” Demirtas charged after the Ankara bombings. Many of those killed were HDP members, including two candidates for parliament.
Underscoring the tensions, 12 people were injured in a scuffle in Tokyo on Sunday between Turks and ethnic Kurds as hundreds of Turkish citizens gathered at the embassy to vote.
“The whole world is worried about Turkey… political polarisation has put us in this situation,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main secular opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).