Turks head to the polls in cru­cial par­lia­men­tary elec­tion

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY SUZAN FRASER AND DES­MOND BUT­LER

Turkey was hold­ing a cru­cial par­lia­men­tary elec­tion Sun­day that will de­ter­mine whether rul­ing party law­mak­ers can re­write the con­sti­tu­tion to bol­ster the pow­ers of Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­do­gan.

Er­do­gan him­self was not on the bal­lot. Still, the elec­tion was ef­fec­tively a ref­er­en­dum on whether to en­dow his of­fice with ex­tra­or­di­nary pow­ers that would sig­nif­i­cantly change Turkey’s democ­racy and pro­long his reign as the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful politi­cian.

Er­do­gan’s rul­ing Jus­tice and Devel­op­ment Party, the AKP, is ex­pected to win sig­nif­i­cantly more votes than any op­po­si­tion party but it must win a su­per­ma­jor­ity of the 550 seats in par­lia­ment to change the con­sti­tu­tion.

All eyes will be on the re­sults for the main Kur­dish party, HDP. If it crosses a 10 per­cent thresh­old for en­ter­ing par­lia­ment as a party, that would ex­tin­guish AKP’s con­sti­tu­tional plans.

The vote comes amid high ten­sions fol­low­ing bomb­ings Fri­day dur­ing a HDP rally that killed 2 peo­ple and in­jured scores. On Sun­day, Prime Min­is­ter Ah­met Davu­to­glu said a sus­pect had been de­tained in the case, but pro­vided no other de­tails.

More than 53 mil­lion vot­ers in Turkey and abroad are el­i­gi­ble to choose the deputies to the Grand Na­tional As­sem­bly. If the rul­ing AKP wins a ma­jor­ity of 330 seats, it could call for a na­tional re­fer- en­dum to change the con­sti­tu­tion. If the party cap­tures 367 seats, it could vote in a change with­out a ref­er­en­dum.

Af­ter cast­ing his vote, HDP leader Se­la­hat­tin Demir­tas called for peace af­ter what he saw as an “oner­ous and a trou­bled cam­paign.”

Aside from the con­sti­tu­tional is­sues, the elec­tion could have a ma­jor im­pact on the peace process to end decades of in­sur­gency by Kur­dish mil­i­tants in Turkey.

Scuf­fles be­tween ri­val party sup­port­ers were re­ported in at least two prov­inces Sun­day, in­clud­ing one in San­li­urfa which in­jured 15 peo­ple.

Er­do­gan has been Turkey’s dom­i­nant politi­cian since his party swept into power in 2002 — be­com­ing prime min­is­ter in 2003 and lead­ing his party to two over­whelm­ing par­lia­men­tary elec­tion vic­to­ries. In a gam­ble, last year he de­cided to run for pres­i­dent, bank­ing that his party could later bol­ster his pow­ers.

Un­der the cur­rent con­sti­tu­tion, Er­do­gan is meant to stay above the po­lit­i­cal fray as pres­i­dent. But he has been cam­paign­ing vo­cif­er­ously, drawing com­plaints from the op­po­si­tion that he is ig­nor­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

As he cast his vote Sun­day, Er­do­gan praised the elec­tion as an in­di­ca­tion of the strength of democ­racy in Turkey.

“This strong democ­racy will be con­firmed with the will of our peo­ple and ex­tend the trust we have in our fu­ture,” Er­do­gan said.

Early in the cam­paign, he called on vot­ers to give AKP 400 deputies, but a slim ma­jor­ity for the rul­ing party is a more likely re­sult. That could leave Er­do­gan stranded in the pres­i­den­tial palace with­out the pow­ers he has long sought.

A nar­row win by the AKP, how­ever, could be the best re­sult for Davu­to­glu, who would lose power if Er­do­gan has his way.

Op­po­si­tion par­ties, in­clud­ing the main op­po­si­tion Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party, or CHP, and the na­tion­al­ist MHP party looked stronger in a re­cent poll, cam­paign­ing on pos­i­tive eco­nomic agen­das.

Hakan Kizil­tan, an Ankara res­i­dent, ex­pressed op­ti­mism af­ter vot­ing Sun­day.

“May it be good for our peo­ple and our coun­try,” he said. “I be­lieve our coun­try will go even fur­ther af­ter th­ese elec­tions.”

AP

A polling sta­tion of­fi­cial shows a bal­lot pa­per with the names of po­lit­i­cal par­ties par­tic­i­pat­ing in na­tion­wide elec­tions in an el­e­men­tary school in Ankara, Turkey on Sun­day, June 7.

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