BY Nick Tattersall and Orhan Coskun
ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan is unambiguous about what he wants from an election on Sunday, casting it as a pivotal moment for Turkey: a return to the single-party rule he presided over for more than a decade until June.
The outcome of the second parliamentary election this year will be important not only for Turkey’s domestic stability and its role in resolving the conflict in Syria and Europe’s migration crisis, but also for Erdogan himself.
The NATO member and EU candidate nation of 74 million is confronted by a slowing economy, deep social divisions, suicide bombings and renewed conflict in its Kurdish southeast, plus the chaos in neighbouring Syria and an influx of refugees.
Erdogan has made no secret of his ambition to create a presidential system, a constitutional change almost impossible unless the Islamist-rooted AK Party he founded regains the majority it lost in June’s election and dominates parliament.
“Turkey has no time to lose … Sunday is a breaking point for our country … If our people give a single party a chance, then stability will continue,” Erdogan told reporters at a reception last week at his 1,000-room palace, a grand symbol of the “new Turkey” he wants to build.
“On the morning of Nov. 2, everyone together will undoubtedly show respect and stand up for the result … After that hopefully the new Turkey won’t relive the trouble we have experienced in the last five months.”
If the AKP fails to secure a majority, it may have to share power with the main secularist opposition – an outcome Western allies, foreign investors and many Turks say might ease social divisions and keep Erdogan’s hunger for greater power in check.
If the AKP wins a majority or misses by a margin narrow enough to embolden it to govern alone anyway, its opponents fear Turkey will be led further down a path of authoritarianism and disregard for Western values on free speech and the rule of law.
Most opinion polls in recent weeks have suggested the AKP will struggle to win back its majority but may take more of the vote than in the June 7 election, when it won 40.9 percent and was left unable to govern alone for the first time since 2002.
One survey released on Thursday by pollster Adil Gur suggested there had been a late surge in support for the AKP and that it could take as much as 47.2 percent, comfortably enough to secure more than half of the 550-seat parliament.
AKP officials seem confident they have a good chance of pulling together at least 276 loyal MPs and going it alone, with one source close to the presidency saying: “Concerns about instability mean votes are coming back to the AKP.”
A senior official in the ruling party said the AKP’s own polling this week put it on 43.7 percent of the vote, suggesting single-party government could be back within reach.
Party chiefs hope a renewed war on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants in the southeast could win back nationalist support, even if the pro-Kurdish HDP also wins more votes and again crosses the 10 percent threshold to enter parliament, as it did for the first time in June.
They also hope fears about slowing growth – expected at 3 percent this year – will persuade voters to put their trust in a party that built its reputation on its economic stewardship, rather than risk the uncertainty of a fragile coalition.
AKP officials acknowledge privately that if the numbers go against them, a coalition with the CHP would be the most likely, though Erdogan would not relish accommodating a party whose secularist ideals are diametrically opposed to his own.
Feeding on Fear
Etyen Mahcupyan, a former advisor to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, wrote in the pro-government Daily Sabah that the outcome could shape the political landscape for the next decade.
“A new 10-year period may start from 2015 (for the AK Party),” he wrote in the newspaper, which depicted an AKP victory as a foregone conclusion.
Senior figures in the AKP and CHP have said they would be ready for a coalition if necessary, noting that despite underlying ideological differences, their opinions on economic and foreign policy, and the Kurdish conflict, are not far apart.
If a coalition proves unavoidable, Erdogan might prefer a deal with the nationalist MHP but its leader, Devlet Bahceli, has earned the moniker “Dr. No” after rejecting suggestions put to him during failed coalition negotiations after the June vote.
Both Bahceli and CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu have said any coalition deal would hinge on a guarantee that Erdogan, a former prime minister who is now 62, refrain from trying to reach beyond the constitutional limits of his power.
“Another hung parliament is the most likely outcome, but it is not a given that Erdogan will consent to an AKP-led coalition government,” Wolfango Piccoli, managing director of London-based Teneo Intelligence, said in an e-mailed note.
Allies in Europe and the United States want a stable Turkey but can do little beyond offering words of caution if the result emboldens Erdogan.
Washington is using air bases in Turkey to strike Islamic State in Syria and European leaders want Turkey’s help to stem the continent’s biggest migration crisis since World War Two.