Western 'concern' over Turkey vote as Erdogan consolidates rule

AFP , Tuesday 3 Nov 2015

International election observers, from left, Andreas Gross, Ignacio Sanchez Amor and Margareta Cederfelt speak to the media a day after election in Turkey, in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, Nov. 2, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Turkey's Western allies have voiced deep concerns over media intimidation in the run-up to the election that returned President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party to power.

The surprise outcome of Sunday's vote could further entrench power in the hands of Erdogan, the dominant figure in Turkish politics for more than a decade who critics warn is becoming more autocratic.

In a turnaround that confounded pollsters, Erdogan's Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) reclaimed the majority it lost just five months ago, returning the Muslim majority country to single-party rule once more.

Erdogan on Monday declared the outcome a vote for "stability" after renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels and a wave of bloody jihadist attacks, and called on the entire world to respect the result.

But the United States, a key ally, and two European observer missions expressed concern over the campaign, particularly the crackdown on media critical of Erdogan.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US was "deeply concerned that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign".

"We have both publicly and privately raised our concerns about freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Turkey," he said.

His remarks echoed the findings of European election observers.

While voters were given a choice between genuine alternatives, "the rapidly diminishing choice of media outlets, and restrictions on freedom of expression in general" caused "serious concerns," said Ignacio Sanchez Amor, head of an Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission.

"Unfortunately, the campaign for these elections was characterised by unfairness and, to a serious degree, fear," said Andreas Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation.

The clampdown on media continued Monday, with the arrest of the editor of Istanbul-based magazine Nokta over a cover story on Erdogan's win entitled: "The start of civil war in Turkey."

The magazine was accused of inciting the public to commit a crime, the Dogan news agency said.

Turkey's main opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper labelled the AKP win a "victory of fear".

Columnist Can Dundar said Turkey's already highly polarised society was split between "those who are ready to die for Erdogan and those who cannot stand him anymore."

The AKP secured almost half the vote to secure 317 seats in the 550-member parliament, according to the latest results.

Turkish stocks and the lira soared on the results, which ended the months of political uncertainty stoked by the inconclusive June vote.

The outcome is a huge personal victory for the 61-year-old "Sultan" Erdogan, who may now be able to secure enough support for his ambitions to become a US-style executive president.

Analysts voiced concerns that a stronger AKP could pursue its attacks on opposition-held businesses and media and maintain a hardline stance on the Kurdish crisis.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on all parties to agree on a new civilian constitution to replace a 1980 military-drafted charter.

"Let's work together towards a Turkey where conflict, tension and polarisation are non-existent," he told thousands of supporters on election night.

While AKP supporters were jubilant, many Turks greeted the election result with deep disquiet.

"I'm horrified. I don't want to live in this country anymore because I don't know what is awaiting us," said Guner Soganci, 26, a waitress in Istanbul.

The AKP lost its majority for the first time in 13 years in June when the pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party (HDP) entered parliament in a historic breakthrough.

Analysts said the resurgence in fighting between government forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) a month later appeared to strengthen the ruling party at the expense of the HDP, which barely scraped past the 10-percent threshold need to remain in parliament.

There was also disappointment for the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which had hoped to join a coalition, and support for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also fell.

Turkey was rocked in the run-up to the election by a string of attacks blamed on the Islamic State group, including twin suicide bombings at an Ankara peace rally last month that killed 102 people.

The international community will also be watching Turkey's policy towards neighbouring Syria, after it was cajoled into joining the US-led coalition against IS.

The EU is also looking to Turkey to do more to prevent Syrian refugees setting sail for Europe from Turkey's shores.

Turkey itself is sheltering over two million Syrian refugees.

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