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Transformation of realities on the ground in Turkey since June polls but snap election outcome unlikely to follow suit

Less than 5 months after the historic national elections on 7th June, Turkey heads to the polls once more on 1st November. In such a short period of time, a lot has happened in Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the Justice and Development Party (AKP) lost their majority and much of that was owed to the success of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) led by Selahattin Demirtaş who gained 13% of the vote.

Coalition talks were destined to fail and the snap elections affords Erdogan and the AKP a second chance to win back their majority. Since June, the government has taken a number of steps home and abroad to transform the political calculus and its waning relations with the West.

A deadly Islamic State (IS) inspired bombing in Suruc not only opened the door to Turkey finally join the war against IS that the West long demanded but was also the basis for an agreement with the United States to use their strategically important Incirlik military base. This should have been a milestone but was quickly shadowed by Erdogan’s decision to expand the war on terror to its longtime foe the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and since then the reality of deadly conflict, curfews and instability threatens a return to the dark days of 1990’s.

The AKP’s start of a twin war against IS and PKK was a risky gamble and the polarization of Turkey has accelerated. For Erdogan to win back his majority, he needs to secure votes from the anti-Kurdish Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and dilute the gains of HDP or even push their votes back below the 10% threshold by tying the PKK noose firmly around Demirtaş.

The worst terrorist attack in the history of Turkey on 10th October in Ankara left over a 100 dead. IS were the prime culprits for the bombing but nevertheless the fact it was aimed at a Kurdish rally only made sentiment worse. HDP have complained of a number of other attacks on its party since June.

Then in recent days the government stormed the headquarters of an opposition media group linked to Erdogan’s longtime rival Fethullah Gulen and his Hizmet movement.

In terms of foreign relations, Turkey has also tried to mend bridges by agreeing a deal with the EU on Turkey’s substantial Syrian refugee population that has caused a major migration crisis with the majority travelling through Turkey, in return for kick-starting stalled EU accessions talks. In recent weeks it has even shown flexibility to the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in line with its Western allies.

But while AKP has undertaken steps to reheat its frosty relations with the US-led coalition, it’s hardly convinced with US policy in Syria that has moved the Syrian Kurds to the forefront of the struggle against IS as the as most trusted and capable allies of the US.

Turkey has vowed to do “whatever necessary” against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) amidst increasing Kurdish autonomy and power in Syria that only fuels the PKK dilemma in Turkey.

Whilst the actions home and abroad have changes the calculus, it is unlikely to result in a major transformation at the polls.

AKP votes are unlikely to shift sufficiently to harness a majority and once the votes have been cast, Turkey has to come to terms with its growing polarization, its renewed military struggle against the Kurds with the prospects of peace an increasingly distant reality, its fallout from media raids, the constant threat of IS and the growing power of Syrian Kurds on its door-step.

Similar to first election, the AKP is likely need to negotiate with coalition partners, if it was difficult the first time, then it’s a much tougher predicament this time around with hard compromise needed.

First Published: Kurdish Globe

Other Publication Sources: Various Misc