Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Turkish Election Round-Up – June 7th

With just a few days to go before the general election on June 12, Turkish politics is heating up. The tone on all sides is getting increasingly vitriolic. Conspiracies and ungrounded accusations are rife. Prime Minister Erdoğan, in particular, is in a pugnacious mood. 

With so many new developments, and so many bold statements coming from the main parties, I’ll be providing an election round-up for the next few days of some key issues and interesting side stories. I will also be in Istanbul from Thursday to get a close-up view of events.

Economist under fire
After an Economist editorial last week which called for Turkish voters to support the opposition CHP - though not without qualification and not without praising the AKP’s eight years in office – the ruling party has hit back at the publication and the international media more generally. 

Mr Erdoğan, in a statement perhaps more suited to his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, declared that "The international media, because they are backed by Israel, wouldn't be happy with the continuation of the AK Party government.” Other government officials have weighed in, slamming the magazine. 

OSCE observers making first trip to Turkey
According to Monday’s Hurriyet, 100 observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) will be monitoring the polls on Sunday. This is the first time that the OSCE has observed Turkish elections. The head of the delegation said that “[s]ince you [Turkey] are the largest Muslim-majority democracy in the world, it will be interesting for us to observe how you deal with the democratic principles.” 

Exactly what relevance the religious affiliation of most Turkish citizens has for the election is not clear. It’s also not correct – Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority country.

Flashpoint Diyarbakir?
Diyarbakir, unofficial capital of the Kurds in Turkey, has become something of a political flashpoint recently. The prime minister visited last week (explosives were seized by police prior to his arrival), as did CHP leader Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, seeking to reverse his party’s historic weakness in the Kurdish regions. Even the leader of the far-right MHP, Devlet Bahçeli, held a rally there this Monday.

By all accounts Bahçeli didn’t exactly electrify the smallish crowd, not using the word ‘Kurd’ during his address and emphasising the economic – rather than cultural or ideological – underpinnings of the region’s problems. Despite the uncomfortable echoes of the state of denial which existed vis-à-vis the Kurdish issue in the 1980s, the rally represents a leap forward for the MHP. The last rally by the party there was in 1995, and was tiny. Al Jazeera has a good video covering the MHP rally here.

The focus on Diyarbakir underlines the increased importance that all parties are paying to the Kurds in this election. Although a number of Kurdish independents are running, in much of the south-east there are votes still up for grabs. They could prove critical.

However there is still a serious wellspring of resentment amongst Kurds in the region towards the government, in particular. Eurasianet has a good report on recent boycotts of state mosques by Kurdish worshippers, a topic which the prime minister lingered over during his rally. Rallies won’t be enough to change this underlying sense of frustration and separation.

Kılıçdaroğlu in Ankara, lambasts AKP use of state resources
 The leader of the CHP was in Ankara today (June 7th) where he apparently received a pretty positive welcome. Hurriyet claimed that even in traditional AKP strongholds the CHP got a good showing, although it is hard to verify this.

He also declared that he held public rallies rather than state rallies, accusing the government of using the state machinery to boost AKP support on campaign stops by closing schools and workplaces to artificially boost their numbers. Truthful observation or a way to cover unimpressive crowds for the CHP?

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