Turkey election victory is cause of relief and concern for Europe

AK Party comeback raises questions about press freedom and human rights

Supporters of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party celebrate outside the party’s headquarters in Ankara. Photograph: Getty Images/ Adem Altanadem Altan/AFP

Supporters of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party celebrate outside the party’s headquarters in Ankara. Photograph: Getty Images/ Adem Altanadem Altan/AFP

 

Turkey’s AK Party scored a stunning victory in snap parliamentary elections yesterday, winning 49 per cent of the vote with 95 per cent of ballots counted and allowing it to form the majority government it lost last June.

The AK Party benefitted from a swing in votes away from the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and to a lesser extent from the Kurdish-rooted Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which scraped into parliament with 10.6 of the national vote.

“Today is a victory for our democracy and our people. Hopefully we will serve you well for the next four years and stand in front of you once again in 2019,” said Prime Minister and AK Party leader Ahmet Davutoglu from his home city of Konya.

The party was co-founded and formerly led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Its campaign focused on the stability and economic progress it had brought to Turkey over the past 13 years of its rule, resulting in it adding 9 per cent to its June tally.

Following that election, which robbed the party of its parliamentary majority, the government and opposition parties failed to produce a coalition and Turkey then lurched from crisis to crisis.

Suicide bombings, a return to war with the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and a freefalling lira have all contributed to a heightened sense of instability among voters.

The government cracked down on its critics by taking control of opposition television stations last week and arresting and charging journalists for criticising the Turkish president.

Attacks on journalists

Though the AK Party doubled down on districts lost by slight margins in last June’s poll, yesterday’s result has come as a surprise to many. In Ankara, it was predicted to win 48 per cent of the provincial vote while the provinces of Kars and Ardahan in the east and won by the HDP in June, fell to the AK Party.

For Europe the result is both a cause for relief and concern. The AK Party government has hosted more than two million Syrian refugees fleeing war and is key to Europe’s plans for keeping refugees and migrants from entering the European Union from Turkey.

However, restrictions on media and Turkey’s faltering human rights records has resulted in criticism from Turkish and international human rights groups.

As president, Mr Erdogan is constitutionally bound to refrain from being involved in day-to-day politics, but talk of changing the country’s constitution will likely return to the national debate following the comprehensiveness of his former party’s win.

Faruk Logogolu, a leading member of the secular-focused Peoples’ Republican Party or CHP and the only major party to have remained static from June’s poll, said he expects further difficulties for the country. “The outcome signals even more difficult days ahead for Turkey, for its neighbours and for its allies. An AK Party-led government means the continuation of the same policies at home and abroad, policies that have turned Turkey into a strategic liability,” he said. “Under the circumstances, we are probably looking at a country that will keep moving backwards on all fronts.”

Kurds shocked

Earlier in the day, soldiers were seen in front of a polling station during voting in the city’s Sur district, where violence has sparked in recent days.

In Cizre, where government forces fought fierce clashes with the youth wing of the PKK in September, the mood among Kurds was one of shock.

“We are all very surprised, I mean a bad surprise. It was something that we didn’t guess, we think it’s not true, there must be some game,” said Cihan, a HDP supporter and pharmacist in Cizre who asked not to be fully identified.

“I think maybe they will start the peace process [with the PKK] again because the HDP will be in parliament and the AK Party will be in government. So I think the government will try and maybe there is some good to this result.”