Divided Turkey votes in snap election, security, economy fears weigh
ANKARA/ISTANBUL – Turks voted on Sunday under the shadow of deteriorating security and economic worries in a snap parliamentary election likely to profoundly affect the trajectory of the polarised country and that of President Tayyip Erdogan.
The vote is the second in five months, after the AK Party founded by Erdogan in June lost the single-party governing majority it has enjoyed since first coming to power in 2002.
Since then, a ceasefire with Kurdish militants has collapsed into bloodshed, the war in neighbouring Syria has worsened and NATO-member Turkey has been hit by two Islamic State-linked suicide bomb attacks, killing more than 130 people.
Investors and Western allies hope the vote will usher in stability and shore up confidence in the economy, allowing Ankara to play a stronger role in stemming a flood of migrants into Europe and helping in the fight against Islamic State.
There has been little sign of the flags, posters and campaign buses that thronged the streets in the build-up to June’s vote. But Erdogan has framed this sombre re-run as a pivotal opportunity for Turkey to return to single-party AKP rule after months of political uncertainty.
“This election will be for continuity of stability and trust,” he said after praying at a new Istanbul mosque on Saturday. He promised to respect the result.
Voters in Istanbul were sharply divided in their views on a return to single-party rule or the prospect of a coalition.
“The AK Party says single-party rule will bring stability but we haven’t seen much of it in the last couple of years,” said 22-year-old nurse Gulcan. “We need a system of checks and balances and a grand coalition will hopefully give us that.”
“Coalitions are just not good for Turkey. There has to be single-party rule for stability,” said 51-year-old Kahraman Tunc, voting with his wife and daughter. “For the sake of our country’s good I hope there will be AK single-party rule.”
Voting began in eastern Turkey at 7 a.m. (0400 GMT) and an hour later in the rest of the country, with polling stations to close at 1400 GMT. A ban on announcing the results is in place until 1800 GMT but the election board usually lifts the ban before the official time.
The election was prompted by the AKP’s inability to find a junior coalition partner after the June outcome. Erdogan’s critics say it represents a gamble by the combative leader to win back enough support so the party can eventually change the constitution and give him greater presidential powers.
Many polls suggest that while support for the centre-right, Islamist-rooted party may have inched up, the result is unlikely to be dramatically different to June, when AKP took 40.9 percent of the vote.
However, one survey released on Thursday suggested there had been a late surge in backing for the AKP and that it could take as much as 47.2 percent, comfortably enough to secure more than half of the 550-seat parliament.
Whatever the outcome, deep polarisation in Turkey – between pious conservatives who champion Erdogan as a hero of the working class, and Western-facing secularists suspicious of his authoritarianism and Islamist ideals – is likely to remain.
“The political uncertainty, growing social divisions and insecurity which has characterized the period between the two elections seems set to continue,” Bulent Aliriza, director of the Turkey Project at the Washington-based think-tank CSIS, said in a note on Friday.
If the AKP fails again to secure a single-party majority, it may be forced back to the negotiating table with either the main secularist CHP opposition or the nationalist MHP.
The pro-Kurdish HDP, which entered parliament as a party for the first time in June, scaled back its election campaign after its supporters were targeted in the Ankara suicide bomb attack that killed more than 100 people.
“What all Turkey wants and needs more than anything is peace and calm,” HDP leader Selahattin Demirtas said after voting in Istanbul. “I hope good election results will give solace to the suffering families of those who gave their lives for peace, freedom and democracy.”
Violence between security forces and Kurdish militants has beset the mainly Kurdish southeast since a ceasefire unravelled in July but the region was peaceful in the early hours of voting on Sunday, with no reports of unrest.
Some Western allies, foreign investors and Turks see an AKP coalition with the CHP as the best hope of easing sharp divisions in the EU-candidate nation, and say it could keep Erdogan’s authoritarian instincts in check.
Raids in recent days on opposition media linked to Erdogan’s arch-enemy, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, including the closure of two TV stations and seizure of newspapers, have heightened fears about the erosion of freedom of speech and the rule of law.
AKP officials are hoping the turbulence of recent months will steer voters who remember the fragile coalition governments of the 1990s back to the AKP, and are betting that a recent crackdown on the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will claw back nationalist votes.
Turkey jets bombed Islamic State (IS) targets in Syria on Saturday ahead of the election and state-run Anadolu Agency said more than 50 IS militants were killed. -Reuters