Insecurity threatens planned Turkey poll

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said the country will go to the polls again in November, after talks to form a coalition government in the wake of June’s inconclusive election failed. But there are growing concerns over the upcoming vote amid renewed fighting with the PKK Kurdish rebel group and threats from the Islamic State.

Fighting between Turkish security forces and the PKK has escalated since last month’s collapse of a cease-fire reached in 2013.

Soli Ozel, an international relations expert at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University, warns the rising violence is putting the November general election in doubt.

“I am not even sure that we can hold elections if the violence continues. And that’s what I am afraid of: we may end up not being able to go to elections. How are you going to hold elections in a war zone or how can you trust the results (of) elections in a war zone?” Ozel asked.

Adding to the security concerns, the Islamic State last week released a video calling on its Turkish followers to conquer Istanbul.

Still, Turkey has a lot of experience in holding elections in the midst of conflict, says Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels.

“Turkey had elections when PKK terrorism was still continuing, mostly in the 1980s and ’90s. But the difference is that at the time PKK terrorism was more of a factor for rural regions, while this time around we have witnessed [it] mostly in urban areas,” Ulhen says.

Curfews have already been enforced in towns in Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast – the center of the current fighting – along with temporary security zones that outsiders are not allowed to visit for six months. Police have also arrested members of the country’s main legal pro-Kurdish party, the HDP, which entered parliament for the first time in June’s elections.

Analyst Ozel says the arrests raise more concerns about the forthcoming poll.

“There have been more HDP people arrested in the last wave of arrests than there were PKK-affiliated people. The real threat, as far as (President Erdogan’s) AKP (party) is concerned, is the HDP,” Ozel says.

This past weekend, security forces arrested three prominent HDP mayors on separatism charges. Observers say concerns over the integrity of the November vote will heighten with the growing security presence in the predominantly Kurdish southeast and the use of emergency powers, which is predicted to increase.