International observers of Turkey’s parliamentary elections have criticised the climate of “violence and fear” that preceded the vote, saying the security environment, arrests of opposition activists and stifling of press freedoms combined to make the campaign “unfair”.
The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has said he deserved respect from the whole world following Sunday's result. But the international election observation mission that monitored the polls expressed serious concerns at a press conference in Ankara on Monday.
“This campaign was unfair and characterised by too much violence and fear,” said Andreas Gross, the Swiss head of the mission representing the parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe (Pace).
In a stunning victory that secured 317 seats, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) which Mr Erdogan founded and which is led by the prime minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, regained the outright majority it had lost in June’s inconclusive election. Saying the Turkish electorate had voted for stability , Mr Erdogan on Monday urged the international community to accept the election results.
“The final decisive actor in our political world is the national will, and yesterday on November 1st, the national will favoured stability,” Mr Erdogan said before castigating the international media for criticising his rule.
"Why is the world media taking such a close interest in Turkey while ignoring their own countries? Why don't they respect the national will? The national will elected me by 52 per cent. They still have not respected that fact," he said.
“Now a party with some 50 per cent in Turkey has attained power. This should be respected by the whole world, but I have not seen such maturity.”
Mr Gross appealed to the Turkish president to reduce polarisation in the aftermath of the divisive election. “He has to unite again what has been divided in the last five months,” he said.
The observer mission’s preliminary report said that while the elections were conducted professionally and offered a variety of choices for the electorate, the violence against the opposition and their party premises hindered their ability to campaign freely, citing the arrest of activists of the opposition pro-Kurdish HDP in the run-up to the vote.
It also said press freedom remained an area of serious concern, with ongoing criminal prosecutions of journalists and closures of media channels limiting the opposition’s ability to present its views to the public.
“Criminal investigations of journalists and media outlets for support of terrorism and defamation of the president, the blocking of websites and the effective seizure of some prominent media outlets reduced voters’ access to a plurality of views and information,” the mission said in its statement.
Supporters of the AKP are unlikely to be concerned by the criticisms of the international mission, as many see the election results as a rebuke to foreign powers and to Mr Erdogan’s opponents inside and outside the country. Many are also sceptical of the prospect of Turkey joining the EU, and what they see as European hypocrisy over the Syrian refugee crisis.
“Recep Tayyip Erdogan took Turkey 100 years forward and changed it for the better, and brought peace and we want him to stay in power,” said Unal Cakmak, an AKP supporter who was at a rally at the party’s headquarters to celebrate the election victory on Sunday night. “We are fed up with Europe. Our leader is Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
Mr Erdogan called for the snap election in a gamble that paid off handsomely in the polls, with his party winning almost five million additional votes in comparison with June. The victory is a vindication of a divisive figure, who critics accuse of authoritarianism and a desire to transform Turkey into a presidential republic to further his ambitions.
The elections took place against a backdrop of widening violence, with a double suicide bombing in Ankara last month that was the deadliest terrorist attack ever on Turkish soil, as well as renewed violence in predominantly Kurdish areas between security forces and the outlawed separatist Kurdistan Workers party (PKK) after the collapse of peace talks in recent months.
It also took place amid a widening crackdown on press freedom that prominent local journalists have described as the worst in the republic's history. – (Guardian)