Turkey is going to polls for the second time this year in what many see as an attempt by the ruling Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, to secure enough seats in parliament to change the constitution and fulfill the wish of its founder and Turkey’s current president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to transform the Turkish state into a presidential system.
On June 7, Turkey elected four parties to Parliament, including the new progressive, pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party, known as HDP, which ended 12 years of single-party rule – and shattering the AKP’s hopes of gaining the outright majority it needs to change Turkey’s constitution on its own.
The HDP won 80 seats and 16 percent of the vote, but the AKP still won the popular vote and had a mandate to form a coalition government.
However, critics and opposition parties say that in order to go to snap elections – essentially a do-over – the AKP, with the support of President Erdogan, sabotaged the talks with other parties.
After the AKP failed to form a coalition, Erdogan had the power to give the next biggest party, the secular CHP, the mandate to form a coalition government. However, he opted within his limited powers to call for another election, something critics note had never happened before in the history of the republic.
Despite the law in Turkey prohibiting the president from being affiliated with any political party, Erdogan is widely believed to be still running the show in the AKP.
The Islamic-rooted AKP has ruled the country since 2002. The party was led by Erdogan until the summer of 2014, when he left to become president of the republic in the country's first-ever public presidential vote.
Erdogan has been vocally pushing for a presidential system for the past several years, which he argues would strengthen Turkish democracy. But many in Turkey see it as means of consolidating power.
In anticipation of the Nov. 1 elections, Erodgan and the AKP have sought to discredit the HDP in hopes of either pushing the party out of parliament or attracting votes from the nationalist party, the MHP, which traditionally opposes any conciliation with Kurds in the country.
Less than a month after the elections, the Turkish government in July launched a major, indefinite military operation against the Kurdistan's Worker's Party, or PKK, renewing the Turkish-Kurdish conflict, which killed more than 40,000 people – mostly Kurds – over the past two decades, and putting an end to more than two years of a peace process and a cease-fire between the Turkish state and the PKK.
As soon as the anti-PKK operation kicked off, the AKP, its media arms and Erdogan labeled the HDP as the political wing of the Kurdish resistance group, which is labeled a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. In June, more than 6 million people, Kurds and Turks alike, voted for the HDP.
The HDP's leader, Selahattin Demirtas, is currently being investigated for insulting the president and allegedly producing propaganda for a declared terror organization, the PKK.
Demirtas declined to be interviewed, citing his busy campaign schedule.
The left-wing HDP party, which has male-female leadership across all party positions, has positioned itself under the leadership of the young and charismatic Demirtas and Figen Yuksekdag, an advocate of civil rights and women rights, making it increasingly popular among young and urban voters.
However, the Turkish government did not only restart the conflict with the PKK.
Ankara has also gotten more involved in the conflict in Syria in July, launching another, much more limited operation against the Islamic State group. The government has also allowed the United States to use the Incirlik base to carry out airstrikes against extremist groups in Syria.
Such expanded military adventures have so far led to increased instability in the country. Since the elections in June, two bombings have rocked Turkey, killing hundreds of people and injuring many more. Those bombings mainly targeted Kurdish activists and members of the HDP.
On July 20, a suicide bombing in the Turkish-Syrian border city of Soruc killed 34 people as they gathered to dicussions possible actions in support of the Syrian Kurdish city of Kobani, which was under siege by the Islamic State group a year earlier.
In addition, the deadliest terror attack in the history of the Turkish republic took place this October when two suicide bombers, one of whom was the brother of the Soruc attacker, targeted a peace rally in the capital Ankara, killing over 100 people. The HDP was one of the event's main organizers and many of its members and deputies attended the rally and were among the victims. Evidence strongly suggests the Islamic state group was the perpetrator of the Ankara attack but, unlike the Sourc bombing, it has not publicly claimed responsibility.
In both cases, many blamed the government for intelligence failure and for allowing the Islamic State group to infiltrate the country after years of turning a blind eye to fighters and arms crossing its border into Syria.
Despite Erdogan and the ruling party's efforts to regain power in Parliament, observers say the HDP will stay strong and will not be weakened.
Rolling averages of the last five polls published by Turkish pollsters suggest that the HDP will maintain its share of the vote and likely cross the 10 percent threshold needed to join the assembly. The polls also suggest that the AKP will remain the largest party but will still be far from an outright majority, or the 376 seats in Parliament needed to directly change the constitution. Whether it will have enough seats for single-party rule – 276 – is still too close to call.
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