On November 1st Turkish people will take to the polls for the second time in just six months, following the inconclusive elections in June and the failure on any coalition government to materialise. Turkey’s controversial President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was left disappointed after the June election, with his Justice and Development Party (AKP) failing to win even a majority, let alone the two-thirds majority he wanted to alter the constitution and give himself more executive power. With the Turkish government ramping up efforts against the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), and the threat of the so-called Islamic State (IS) ever present, this election may prove to be a watershed moment in Turkish politics.
Turkish policy with regards to IS paints a fragmented picture. Mr. Erdogan was initially reluctant to let NATO use Turkish bases for strikes against IS, probably in fear of IS affiliates targeting Turkey in return. However, this lack of enthusiasm was blown out of the water on July 20th, when a suicide bomber killed 33 people in the town of Suruc. In only a matter of days Turkey said it would allow American planes to use its base at Incirlik – a decision met with praise from Turkey’s allies in the West.
However, Turkey has been more interested in bombing PKK targets than IS, which has in turn forced a reaction from the militant Kurdish group. The two-year ceasefire between the Turkish government and the PKK disintegrated rapidly, with offshoots of the PKK such as the Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) have been targeting police and security personnel in the south-east of the country.
Mr. Erdogan jeopardises the relative security and stability that Turkey has enjoyed in Middle East
The primary goal of Mr. Erdogan is to boost support for his Islamic-tinged AK party, and helped them to win a majority in the upcoming election. He has tried to do this by whipping up anti-Kurdish fever across the country. The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) won 13% of the vote in June, with many AK voters switching to HDP. Erdogan has resorted to accusing HDP members of associating with PKK terrorists, a claim stringently refuted.
By tapping into underlying nationalist and anti-Kurd sentiment, Mr. Erdogan jeopardises the relative security and stability that Turkey has enjoyed in Middle East. Furthermore, he risks weakening the fight against IS, as Kurds have been the best at fighting off the advances of IS. By upping efforts against Kurds, the Turkish government pulls more PKK fighters away from fighting the so-called Islamic State, and into the Turkish struggle.
The bombing of 30 soldiers and policemen early in September by Kurdish fighters saw revenge attacks across the country by Turkish nationalist mobs. HDP offices have been torched and attacked, with many Kurdish-owned businesses torched and coaches travelling to Kurdish regions of the country stopped and harassed. On October 10th, Turkey suffered its worse ever terrorist attack, with 99 people killed at a pro-peace rally in the capital Ankara, including two HDP parliamentary candidates.
It is a very real possibility that an election in this climate could tip the country into a devastating acceleration of the conflict that had marred Turkey for 30 years and cost it more than 30,000 lives. Desperate to prevent this, the PKK has called for a unilateral ceasefire in the run up to the election – but Turkish forces are still attacking PKK bases. The success of the HDP is what underpins the newfound desire of AK for their campaign against Kurds, hoping it will win them a majority in this election. However, polls suggest that few voters would consider changing sides, suggesting a continuation of the current climate. Unlike after the last election, Mr Erdogan and his AK party need to enter negotiations with the mind-set of forming a working coalition; re-entering peace talks with the Kurds, and ensuring that the Turkish government and Kurds are pointing their guns at IS, rather than at each other.