Turkey rushes to its most chaotic election ever
One of the issues that the National Security Council (MGK), Turkey’s top security board, discussed at its meeting earlier this week focused on the measures to be taken for the early elections set for Nov. 1. This is not groundless. As was stated by Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş, current security conditions in eastern and southeastern Anatolia are not suitable for holding healthy and fair elections. Citing a number of incidents violating human rights in the region, he claimed that those who live in the western parts of the country know only 10 percent of what happens in the east.
Demirtaş was obviously referring to intensified security measures in the face of terror acts committed by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Dozens of security personnel have been killed in PKK attacks since mid-July and there is no sign of an end to it, despite Demirtaş’s calls to the terrorist leaders. Describing the current situation as the footsteps heralding a larger and more destructive civil war would not be exaggerating.
This terrorist campaign will surely have its repercussions in the election, but it’s hard at the moment to estimate which party will be the main sufferer. Some public opinion polls suggest a slight increase in the votes of the AKP since mid-July, with some ruling party officials claiming they have already increased their votes to the margin of 45 percent: Nearly three points higher than the June 7 election.
However, other polls suggest the opposite. Some claim a slight rise in HDP votes with the AKP suffering a decline of around three points. Given the fact that there are two months to go to the polls, these figures would not tell much as of now.
While on the one hand Turkey continues to fight against the PKK inside the country, it has also recently joined the U.S.-led international community’s aerial military campaign against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria. Turkish warplanes have started flying together with American fighters to hit ISIL, opening a new front in its war on terror. The move has prompted ISIL to threaten Turkey, raising concerns that extremist jihadists could commit more acts inside Turkey, just as they did in mid-July in the Suruç district of Şanlıurfa province, killing 32 activists in a suicide bombing.
Another important issue pre-occupying the country’s agenda is the government’s increasing pressure on the independent media. Since the June election, it can be observed that a multifaceted strategy is being implemented to restrict freedom of expression in Turkey. The latest major blow was the raids earlier this week on the Koza İpek group, which owns two newspapers and two TV channels. This Gülen-linked group is well-known for its opposition to the government, regularly covering news stories allegedly depicting the government’s direct and indirect support to extremist groups fighting against the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria.
Another tactic has been to organize smear campaigns against independent media outlets and individual journalists through pro-government newspapers. These papers openly threaten these outlets and journalists over their business activities and sometimes openly call on the judiciary to start taking legal action.
Given the fact that elections are looming, this pressure on the media will surely cast a shadow on the implementation of basic democratic norms, as people will be deprived of getting sound and objective news. This was openly referred to by the observers of the OSCE before the June polls, and the situation is deteriorating further.
On the political level, polarization remains visible and important hurdle to starting a sound dialogue between the parties. One of the questions often asked today is whether any of these four parties can come to terms for a coalition government if the results of November do not allow any of them to form a single-party government. We may find ourselves in a similar situation to that we experienced after the June election, fueling more questions about Turkey’s political stability.
Given this environment full of concerns about security and questions about political ambiguities, it would not be wrong to call this upcoming vote the most chaotic election in Turkey’s political history.