06/06/2011 - D-7
On 3rd March last the National Grand Assembly, the only chamber in Parliament, set the date for the next elections on 12th June in a vote 361 votes in favour out of a possible 550. In one week's time 50,189,930 Turks will appoint the 550 members of Parliament from 7,492 candidates who are running in 85 constituencies. The latest census led to a redistribution of the seats in parliament. 14 constituencies have gained and 28 have lost seats. Istanbul gained 15 seats, Ankara, Antalya and Diyarbakir gained 1 and those of Izmir and Gaziantep, 2. However the constituency of Mersin lost one seat.
The electoral campaign has been marked by a sex scandal. At the beginning of May the internet site Farkli Ulkücülük (a different ideal, a name which echoes the core of the doctrine of the National Action Party, MHP), published videos over the web showing MHP members having adulterous sexual relations. Five MPs - Osman Cakir, Umit Safak, Mehmet Taytak, Deniz Bolukbasi, Mehmet Ekici and the MHP's Secretary General Cihan Pacaci – resigned after the broadcast of these videos. The party received several letters threatening further revelations including about their leader Devlet Bahceli. The latter accused the ruling party (AKP) of being behind this campaign of defamation.
Will this be the Justice and Development Party's third victory?
Outgoing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AKP) launched his campaign in Bayburt (in the north of the country). Running favourite in the polls the AKP hopes to achieve a 2/3 majority in Parliament, which will enable it to modify the Constitution without having to convene a referendum, so that it can write a new Fundamental Law and take Turkey towards a Presidential regime. The AKP owes its popularity to its socio-economic policy: a 31% increase in the GNP since 2002, the year it came to power; an increase in income per capita (from 3,000 to 10,000$ over the last 9 years), GDP growth of 7% on average between 2003 to 2007 (8.9% in 2010); a tripling of investments; a decrease in inflation from 30% to 6.4%. Unemployment that rose above 14% in 2009 after the international economic crisis now lies at around 11% of the working population. The outgoing government has also stepped up work on social aid programmes notably in the areas of healthcare, housing and energy.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced his project to build two new towns around Istanbul to counterbalance a possible earthquake (the region is in a danger zone; in 1999 around 20,000 people were killed in two violent earthquakes in the north west of the country). "The idea behind this project is to overcome a disaster by building housing in safe areas," he declared. The two towns will have a capacity of 500,000 people and will lie on either bank of the Bosphorous (one on the shores of the Black Sea and the other in Asia).
The second project announced by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the construction of a 50 km long canal (150m in width and 25m in depth) which is to run alongside the Bosphorus linking the Black and the Marmara Seas – the aim being to relieve the river's maritime traffic. This canal will be "more important than the Suez and the Panama" by 2023 the year when the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic founded by Kemal Atatürk will be celebrated. On a visit to Ankara the outgoing Prime Minister announced the construction of two new 7000 bed hospitals in the districts of Kecioren/Ellik and Bilkent, a national botanical park, a library, research centres, the biggest zoo in the Middle East, the introduction of new means of transport between the district of Kizilay and the town's airport and finally the extension of the metro lines.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said that Ankara will have finished paying its debt to the IMF in 2013, wants to make Turkey one of the greatest economies in the world by 2023.
A revived opposition
Last February the outgoing Prime Minister said that the opposition had neither goal nor project and had already lost the general elections. "The opposition parties have already accepted their defeat and they are looking for an excuse for this," declared Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Although one week before the election the AKP is still the favourite in the polls it should not minimise the danger which the opposition parties represent however, notably that of the People's Republican Party (CHP), which under the influence of its new leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu (who took over as party head on 22nd May 2010), has progressed over the last few months.
The main opposition parties do not focus so much on the AKP's Islamist threat but denounce the corruption and authoritarianism of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Kemal Kilicdaroglu is also active in the economic area. He has warned of the fragility incurred by over rapid growth and has pointed to Turkey's rising public deficit (according to the Central Bank it has more than doubled over the last year rising to a record 9.8 billion €) and the country's high economic dependency on imports. Kemal Kilicdaroglu has also promised, in the event of his party's victory, the drafting of a new Constitution that would grant greater freedom to the citizens, including the Kurds and the Alevi minority. The latter who are Shia comprise 10 to 20% of the Turkish population including around one third of Kurds.
The Kurdish Unknown
"In our opinion there is no difference between a Turk and a Kurd," declared the outgoing Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. However during his meeting in Hakkari (south east of the country, only 1000 people turned up and the town's shops all closed as a sign of discontent with the ruling party). At the same time further south Kemal Kilicdaroglu received a warm welcome. The CHP leader promised to abolish the 10% threshold of votes cast (every political party has to present candidates in at least half of the country's provinces and win a 10% minimum of votes cast nationally if they want to be elected; this particularly high threshold is unfavourable to the Kurdish parties whose electorate is concentrated in the east of Turkey), an old claim on the part of the Kurds and the establishment of an investigative commission into unsolved crimes that have taken place in the region.
"The People's Republican Party which never acknowledged the Kurdish issue and which has always denied the Kurd language and identity is now walking hand in hand with the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) – the main Kurd party in Turkey," mocked Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Secretary of State and Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek –AKP – criticised Kemal Kilicdaroglu for have promised that if his party won the local Kurd administrations would become autonomous.
"The two camps, both Turkish and Kurd, have reached a certain level of maturity and we are now at a point when we shall see whether a partnership is possible and what the future status of the Kurds will be," declared an optimistic Leyla Zana, MP since 1991, arrested and condemned to ten years in prison (1994-2004) "for collusion with the Kurd rebellion" after she tried to give oath in Parliament in Kurdish.
In the recent action taken by Kurdish separatists political expert Mustafa Oczan sees evidence of the revolution that has been ongoing since the start of 2011 in the Arab countries. In his opinion, inspired by these events, the Kurdish Workers' Party (PKK), deemed a terrorist organisation by the EU and NATO, led by Abdullah Ocalan, who is at present is serving a life sentence for terrorist activities, is doing everything it can for the Kurds to rise up in a national movement against the government in office. "After vainly trying to provide a democratic solution to the Kurdish problem in 2009 the authorities are now passive and are not taking any real action," indicates Mustafa Oczan. In his opinion the government should be careful not to give the PKK any reason to attack. Incidents in Hopa at the end of May led to the death of one and injury of another of the Prime Minister's bodyguards after the head of government's convoy was attacked with stones.
The Kurd separatists have asked the ruling party to stop military operations against the PKK and regularly threaten to boycott the general elections on 12th June.
According to the latest poll by Konsensus for the daily Haberturk published on 1st June the AKP is due to win 48.6% of the vote. It will come out ahead of the CHP which is due to win 28.3% and the MHP with 11.6%.