Europe

Turkey election: The least predictable for over a decade

A young boy walks near election-themed scarves showing a depiction of leader of the Peoples" Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, in Diyarbakir Image copyright EPA
Image caption Elections are colourful affairs in Turkey

At a square in central Istanbul, women are dancing and clapping along to loud music, wearing T-shirts bearing the logo of the political party they want to win the general election on 7 June. Standing nearby, another party's supporters wait for their turn.

It feels like a street festival of democracy, though rather poorly decorated - with different party flags hanging across trees and lamp-posts.

But there is an underlying tension.

There have been attacks on party buildings, buses and even candidates.

The stakes in this election are high.

Critics of the current government say this could be the last democratic election before Turkey becomes an autocracy.

Supporters say the country's stability is at risk.

For the past 13 years, the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) has held power.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption President Erdogan (left) hopes Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will be re-elected

It has won seven consecutive elections and two referendums, and looks very likely to emerge as the biggest party in the upcoming election.

Last year, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has led the party since 2003, was elected the country's president, with more than 52% of the vote.

'Authoritarian tendencies'

On paper, this election is not about Mr Erdogan - constitutionally the president has to be impartial and above politics.

But in reality, he has featured on every level during the campaign - an issue the opposition has taken to court, with no result.

Mr Erdogan wants to change Turkey's constitution, diminish the role of the parliamentary system and introduce an executive presidency instead.

Critics say this has the potential to increase "Mr Erdogan's authoritarian tendencies".


Recep Tayyip Erdogan:

  • born in 1954, the son of a coastguard in the city of Rize, on Turkey's Black Sea coast
  • became the mayor of Istanbul in 1994
  • pro-Islamist sympathies earned him a conviction in 1998 for inciting religious hatred
  • won three general elections as head of the Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP)
  • won 52% of the vote in the August 2014 presidential poll

Profile: Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey elections: BBC road trip


How will the HDP perform?

Whether or not a presidential system can be introduced will depend on how many seats the AKP manages to win in this election.

If the party wins more than two-thirds of the seats in the parliament, it will be able to rewrite the constitution and change the system without the need to put it to a referendum. To push for constitutional changes through a referendum, they will need 60% of the seats.

This is quite unlikely if the pro-Kurdish, leftist People's Democratic Party (HDP) wins seats.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption The Kurdish population hopes for an election breakthrough

Under Turkey's electoral system, a party has to poll more than 10% of the overall vote to make it into the parliament.

Polls suggest the HDP might just top 10% to take up the more than 50 seats they are predicted to win. If they do, the 13 years of single-handed rule of the governing AKP may come to an end, forcing the party to form a coalition government.

It is this possibility that makes this the most important election in Turkey since 2002.

If the HDP does not make it into parliament though, its votes will be redistributed among other parties, and the AKP will be the primary beneficiary. This will pave the way for the kind of majority the AKP desires to change the constitution.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu hopes to become prime minister

Economy concerns

Under AKP rule, Turkey's economy had a good run for more than a decade:

  • growth rates soared to about 10%
  • gross domestic product (GDP) increased
  • the construction sector boomed
  • inflation was controlled

And Turkey was recently ranked as the 17th biggest economy in the world.

But now:

  • growth has now slowed to 3-4%
  • unemployment levels remain high
  • the country's rising budget deficit is a serious concern
  • the lira has lost one-fifth of its value against the dollar in the past 12 months

Corruption allegations involving government ministers and the lavishness of the multimillion-dollar 1,000-room presidential palace featured in opposition rallies.

A debate on whether or not there were golden toilet seats in the palace made international headlines.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption The presidential palace on the western edge of Ankara has come under scrutiny

'Insulting the president'

Freedom of speech remains one of the most sensitive issues.

In March, social media sites, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, were briefly banned after critical posts.

Since Mr Erdogan was elected president, more than 100 people have been sued for "insulting the head of state".

This week, when opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet published videos allegedly showing Turkish intelligence lorries carrying weapons to opposition groups in Syria, President Erdogan accused the paper and its editor-in-chief of espionage and took legal action.

In Freedom House's latest "freedom of the press" report, Turkey's status declined from "partly free" to "not free".

In the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, Turkey ranks 149th out of 180 countries.

Isolation fears

Mr Erdogan and the governing party have been credited with initiating the negotiations for a peace with the country's almost 15 million Kurds, which was seen as a major breakthrough.

The long-lasting war between the Turkish forces and Kurdish guerrilla group the PKK cost an estimated 40,000 lives in three decades.

For the past two years, a ceasefire has been in place.

However, the negotiations between the Turkish Intelligence Organization (MIT) and the PKK's imprisoned leader, Abdullah Ocalan, seem to have been stalled.

Mr Erdogan hardened his rhetoric by saying there was not a "Kurdish problem", which alienated his pious Kurdish supporters.

On an international level, many fear Turkey risks becoming isolated.

It now has no ambassadors in Syria, Egypt, Libya or Israel, while membership negotiations with the European Union are almost at a standstill.

The advance of the group calling themselves Islamic State across the border in Syria and Iraq is seen as an increasing threat.

On the streets of Diyarbakır, in south-east Turkey, Kurds are already jubilant - as if the party they predominantly support, the HDP, has already made its breakthrough.

A sense of newly found self-confidence and self-expression is evident.

But that joy could turn to anger if the HDP falls short of 10%.

This is Turkey's least predictable election in more than a decade.

Supporters and opponents of the government are holding their breath.