VOTERS go to the polls on Sunday in what is billed as the most important election in Turkey’s recent history.

At stake is the country’s already shaky democracy with the increasingly authoritarian President Recep Tayyip Erdogan aiming to consolidate his power and weaken parliament.

Ruling from a massive new presidential palace, Erdogan has tightened his grip on the government, the news media and the judiciary, while becoming more and more abrasive, particularly with regard to international relations where he is now overtly Islamist and increasingly anti-Western.

While the presidency is theoretically a ceremonial position, it has not stopped Erdogan aggressively campaigning for the ruling Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), which he used to lead before becoming president.

He describes himself now as its “spiritual leader” and at rallies round the country he has regularly upstaged Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu who cannot match his undoubted charisma.

However, the AKP’s three-term reign could be seriously weakened this Sunday by the left-wing People’s Democratic Party (HDP).


TENSIONS are already rising before the vote with Turkish police detaining nearly 50 people in dawn raids in the south east of the country, which is mainly Kurdish and an HDP stronghold. Security sources later said the arrests in Sirnak, bordering Iraq and Syria, were of agitators planning to disrupt the elections. They said they were looking for 37 more people on top of the 43 already arrested.

Sirnak HDP MP, Hasip Kaplan, immediately denounced the raids as an attempt to goad them by the AKP.

“This operation, brought about by the AKP government three days before the election, is, in a word, provocation,” he said. “But the people will not be stirred up. We will thwart this provocation with our rally tomorrow.”

The government claims the HDP supports Kurdish armed rebels but while the party is pro-Kurd it has been trying to widen its base in recent months so that it can clear the 10 per cent of the vote required to enter parliament.

At the moment the HDP is the smallest of the four main parties in Turkey but if its appeal to centre-left voters works it could seriously undermine the AKP – thus thwarting Erdogan’s power bid.

At the last elections in 2011, the AKP won a comfortable majority gaining 327 out of 550 seats. At the time, Erdogan was prime minister and led the party, but he won the Presidential election last year. If the AKP can gain three more seats in this election it would be enough to call a referendum on the constitutional changes required to increase the president’s power.

An even bigger win of 367 seats, giving a majority of two thirds, would mean that the AKP could, under the present constitution, push through the changes without consulting the public.


MANY voters will continue to vote for Erdogan’s party as they support his attempts to replace Turkey’s secular government with one based on Islamist values. They also applaud his sidelining of the once-dominant military even though arrests and trials of senior officers have been controversial.

“To reverse this nation’s ill fate for 12 years is a conquest,” Erdogan told a rally this week. “To successfully pass this turning point on the way to a new Turkey is a conquest. God willing, June 7 will be a conquest.”

Formerly regarded as a reformer and peacemaker, Erdogan once was a spokesman for minority rights and was pro-European Union. He also tried to broker peace with the Kurds but all this seems to have been cast aside and Turkey has been growing increasingly isolated both from the West and many Middle Eastern countries unhappy with his brand of Sunni Islam and support of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He has lost support from the liberals in his party while others are anxious about the slowing down of the country’s economic growth. It means backing for his party is now running at about 43 per cent, a situation that could pave the way for HDP’s entry into parliament.

It the latter gains the crucial 10 per cent it would have more than 50 seats and the President’s plans for constitutional change would be stymied. The other two parties, the centre-left Republican People’s Party and the far-right National Movement Party also oppose constitutional change.

If the HDP poll less than 10 per cent the AKP will not only be more likely to win its target of 330 seats but would also benefit from a large chunk of the re-allocated HDP votes.

There is hope that after widespread allegations of AKP vote-rigging in the March municipal elections the HDP does stand a good chance of winning seats as its calls for greater democracy and women’s rights, as well as its charismatic leader Selahattin Demirtas, have won it supporters.

“The HDP’s range of candidates has been very encouraging,” said Duygu Erdem, 27, a voter in the capital, Istanbul. “We need more women, gays and other minorities to bring checks to Parliament’s stagnant Erdogan-loyalist majority.”

If the HDP do not get in, it is feared that Erdogan will abandon completely the stalled peace process that is aimed at ending years of conflict with the Kurds.

“I don’t see Erdogan as being committed to the peace process in any way,” said Svante Cornell, research director at the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute. “He is trying to maximise and centralise power and concentrate it in his own hands. A peace process would require the opposite of that.”

HDP candidate, Feleknas Uca, is Yazidi, the religious minority being persecuted by Islamic State in Iraq. She hopes to become the first Yazidi MP in Turkey.

“I want to work for peace and for democracy in this country,” she said. “I want to change something.”