Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

Members of Turkish Parliament pose during a vote on snap elections in the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, on April 20, 2018. (AFP / ADEM ALTAN)
Updated 21 April 2018
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Turkey’s ruling party taunts opposition over early election

  • By bringing the vote forward by more than a year, Erdogan hopes to capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria
  • Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president

ANKARA: Turkey’s ruling AK Party taunted the main opposition party on Thursday to name a candidate to challenge Recep Tayyip Erdogan for June elections which are expected to tighten the president’s 15-year hold on power.

Government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said the secularist opposition People’s Republican Party (CHP) was reluctant to put its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, forward for the June 24 vote “because they do not believe he can compete with our president.”

Erdogan called the snap election on Wednesday, bringing the vote forward by more than a year so that Turkey can switch to the powerful new executive presidency that was narrowly approved in a divisive referendum last year.

While many people expected the presidential and parliamentary elections to be held early, the new date leaves barely two months for campaigning and may have wrong-footed Erdogan’s opponents.

“Our chief has donned his wrestling outfit, so if Mr.Kilicdaroglu says ‘I’m a soldier,’ then he should put on his wrestler’s tights and come out,” Bozdag said. The CHP says it will decide on a candidate in the next 10 days, and the pro-Kurdish HDP said it would convene on Sunday to discuss its plans. The nationalist MHP party has said it is backing Erdogan.

Only former Interior Minister Meral Aksener, who broke away from the MHP last year to form the Good Party, has announced her plans to stand for the presidency.

“A politician does not run from elections,” Bozdag said, adding he believed Erdogan would win in the first round. “We as the AK Party are ready for elections.”

Since AK Party first won a parliamentary election in November 2002, Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics, first as prime minister and then as president, transforming his poor, sprawling country on the eastern fringes of Europe into a major emerging market.

But Turkey’s rapid growth has been accompanied by increased authoritarianism, which critics at home and in Europe say has left the country lurching toward one-man rule.

Since an abortive military coup in July 2016, authorities have detained more than 160,000 people, the UN says. Nearly two years after the coup attempt Turkey is still ruled under a state of emergency, and the crackdown continues.

The US voiced concern on Thursday about the timing. “During a state of emergency, it would be difficult to hold a completely free, fair and transparent election in a manner that is consistent with ... Turkish law,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing.

Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli said on Wednesday authorities had identified 3,000 armed forces personnel believed to be linked to the US-based cleric Ankara blames for the failed coup. He said they would be dismissed in the coming days.

Media outlets have also been shut down and scores of journalists have been jailed.

 

Early advantage

By calling the vote nearly a year and half early, Erdogan can capitalize on nationalist support for the military advances by Turkish troops in north Syria, where they drove out Kurdish YPG forces, said Goldman Sachs senior economist Erik Meyersson.

The tight schedule “also gives less time for the opposition to organize and choose presidential candidates,” Meyersson wrote in a research note.

The head of a Turkish polling company seen as close to the AK Party said a poll conducted this week had put the AKP on 41.5 percent, with 6 percent for its ally, the MHP.

Mehmet Ali Kulat, chairman of MAK Danismanlik, said that in a presidential election support for Erdogan could outstrip support for his party.

Erdogan’s announcement helped the lira, which has plumbed record lows this month on widening concern about double-digit inflation and the outlook for monetary policy. The currency surged 2.2 percent on Wednesday, its biggest one-day advance in a year. Turkish stocks also rose more than 2 percent.

Economists said the lira rally reflected a belief that the quick timeline for the election reduced the prospect of extra stimulus to maintain economic growth ahead of the vote.

The economy expanded 7.4 percent last year, fueled by stimulus measures including tax changes and an increase in government credit support for small businesses. The government forecasts 5.5 percent growth in 2018 though economists polled by Reuters expect more modest growth of 4.1 percent.


Hamas pledges Gaza rocket fire probe as calm returns

Updated 38 min 51 sec ago
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Hamas pledges Gaza rocket fire probe as calm returns

  • Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for a decade, issued a joint statement with its ally Islamic Jihad publicly disavowing the rocket fire
  • The risk of a new war, whether through miscalculation or design, remained

GAZA: Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas on Thursday pledged to launch an investigation into rocket fire at Israel the previous day, in an apparent bid to calm fears of a new war.
Israeli children returned to schools near the border with the Palestinian territory that had been closed on Wednesday after the pre-dawn rocket fire from Gaza badly damaged a family home in the southern city of Beersheba.
But the risk of a new war, whether through miscalculation or design, remained.
Three children had a narrow escape after their mother moved them into the safe room, as much of the rest of the house was destroyed, the army said.
Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for a decade, issued a joint statement with its ally Islamic Jihad publicly disavowing the rocket fire.
But Israel rejected their denial, saying they were the only groups armed with rockets of a range sufficient to reach Beersheba — 40 kilometers (25 miles) away — and the sea off Tel Aviv — 70 kilometers (45 miles).
Israel in any case holds Hamas responsible, as Gaza’s de factor ruler, for all fire from the territory regardless of who launches it.
“There are security service investigations in Gaza to uncover who is behind the rocket fire and there will be harsh measures against those (found guilty),” senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP.
He said the rocket fire “aimed to sabotage Egyptian efforts” to broker a long-term truce between Hamas and Israel, which have fought three wars since 2008.
A video published by Hamas’s military wing on Thursday showed militants preparing rockets for launch, with the caption: “Read us correctly, a mistake would not benefit,” written in Hebrew.
Near daily protests along the border since March 30 against Israel’s crippling 11-year blockade of the impoverished enclave have sparked repeated clashes with the army.
More than 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, while one Israeli soldier has been shot dead.
Wednesday’s rocket fire triggered retaliatory Israeli air strikes that killed one suspected militant and raised fears of a new escalation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chaired a meeting of the security cabinet lasting several hours on Wednesday evening.
But no statement was released afterwards and Israeli media reported that ministers had failed to agree on how to respond to the rocket fire and the persistent protests.
The mass circulation Yediot Aharonot newspaper said the swift action of the mother in Beersheba to protect her family had probably prevented a new war.
“If the rocket attack had resulted in casualties, the political echelon’s manoeuvring room would have been reduced to zero, and Israel would have launched, just like it did four years ago, a military operation that it neither wants nor which it believes will be effective.”
Hamas seized control of Gaza from loyalists of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a near civil war in 2007 and the split has made peace negotiations with Israel harder.
Egypt and the UN have been seeking to broker an agreement that would see Israel relax its blockade of Gaza in exchange for a prolonged period of calm from Hamas.
Abbas’s Fatah movement opposes any such deal, saying it amounts to a recognition of Islamist control in Gaza.
Egyptian Intelligence Minister Abbas Kamel had been expected in Gaza on Thursday for his first visit since taking up the post in January, fueling talk of a deal.
Hamas official Naim said the minister was forced to postpone because of a timetabling problem.
But an Egyptian delegation led by senior intelligence official Ayman Badea did travel to Gaza and met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniya.
An Egyptian official told AFP they were still hopeful of achieving a long-term deal to restore calm.
Egypt is one of only two Arab states to have official relations with Israel and plays a key role in indirect negotiations between the Jewish state and Hamas.
Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political analyst in Gaza, said those who fired the rockets wanted to prevent the Egyptian minister’s visit and “stop reconciliation and a truce.”
Fringe Islamist groups opposed to Hamas have previously fired rockets. Suspicion could also fall on factions within Hamas and Islamic Jihad opposed to a truce deal.