Political tension rising ahead of Turkey’s election

Political tension rising ahead of Turkey’s election

The bombing of election offices of the Kurdish problem-focused Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) in the southern cities of Adana and Mersin on May 18 has added to already rising political tension ahead of Turkey’s June 7 general election.

HDP Co-Chair Selahattin Demirtaş was quick to accuse the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) over the attack, adding that it was not the first time the party’s offices had been attacked. The most recent attacks are particularly important because they came just before HDP rallies in Adana and Mersin, just three weeks before the election.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu condemned the bombings categorically, saying he has given instant orders to the security forces to catch those responsible.

The HDP position has a critical importance for this election. If it manages to overcome the 10 percent threshold, the entire balance of representation in the 550-seat parliament will change. It would make it almost impossible for President Tayyip Erdoğan to see an AK Parti-led constitutional change in parliament based on a shift from the parliamentary system to a strong presidential system. There is more: If the HDP gets into parliament and the other two opposition parties, the social democratic main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), manage to increase their votes by just a few percent, the AK Parti may not be able to form a one-party government.

Davutoğlu’s rally in Istanbul on May 17, which AK Parti sources claim was attended by more than a million people, boosted morale in the party. However, the polls still show it below the 50 percent that it harvested in the most recent general election in 2011.

As the elections approach, pressure in other fields like the media is also rising. Both President Erdoğan and PM Davutoğlu have started to hit out at the Doğan Media Group and its flagship Hürriyet almost daily, finding a new reason each time. The most recent justification was over reporting of the death sentence given to Egypt’s toppled president Mohamad Morsi. In another incident, last month Doğan Group reporters were prevented by Davutoğlu’s security forces from covering the funeral of a prosecutor murdered by terrorists. 

The government does not hide that it is uncomfortable with media coverage of opposition parties, regardless of whether this coverage is incomparable to the coverage of the ruling AK Parti overall. The AK Parti uses a considerable budget to promote its ads on public and private TV stations, in addition to the hours-long live coverage of daily speeches delivered by both Erdoğan and Davutoğlu. The HDP, the CHP and the MHP all complain about the unfair TV coverage of public broadcaster TRT, despite its constitutionally binding law on impartiality.

Both government and opposition leaders underline that people should keep calm and be aware of “provocations,” but words may not be enough as the election approaches.