Turkish opposition rides nationalist wave in elections

A politician brandishes a noose and calls for a jailed Kurdish leader to be hanged; another accuses the prime minister of being a coward for not invading Iraq, a third says the premier is the biggest obstacle to Turkey's anti-terror effort.

Turkish opposition rides nationalist wave in elections
With the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) leading the opinion polls for legislative elections Sunday, opposition parties are lashing out at Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's failure to quell renewed bloodshed by separatist Kurdish rebels in the southeast.

The secularist army, often at odds with the AKP's Islamist roots, has upped pressure on Erdogan with public appeals for an incursion into neighbouring Iraq, where the rebel Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist group by Ankara and much of the international community, takes refuge.

Funerals of soldiers killed by the PKK have turned from usually solemn ceremonies into anti-AKP protests during which ministers are booed and the government tagged "murderers."

"The terrorism problem is right at the heart of the elections," political scientist Fuat Keyman said.

Public anger boiled over in May when a suspected PKK militant blew himself up in Ankara, killing nine people.

"The opposition is exploiting the people's security fears. The problem of terror, the slain soldiers have become political material, which is not healthy at all," commented Mehmet Ozcan of the Ankara-based think tank USAK.

The opposition finds fertile ground in a society where nationalism is already on the rise, analysts say, pointing at Turkish exasperation with US inaction against PKK bases in Iraq and strong opposition in Europe to mainly Muslim Turkey's bid for EU membership.

The main beneficiary of rising nationalist sentiment will be the far-right Nationalist Action Party (MHP), which is expected to go over the 10-percent national threshold and return to parliament after a five-year absence, polling expert Hakan Bayrakci told the Internet newspaper Forum.

"The MHP will pass the threshold thanks to the rise of terrorism," he said. "Otherwise, it would have had a very hard time" getting into parliament.

While the MHP's nationalist campaign is no surprise, the main opposition Republican People Party's (CHP) endorsement of a similar agenda has stunned many and left a big void in the centre-left of Turkish politics.

The CHP, expected to be the second force in parliament after the AKP, "drifted away from its social-democrat identity. It is hard now to even call it a democratic party," Keyman said.

The traditional voice of pro-Western, secular Turks, the CHP is now opposed to EU reforms to expand free speech and minority rights and leads calls for an incursion into northern Iraq.

The opposition's reliance on "exaggerated and populist" nationalism reflects its failure to offer efficient economic policies to rival the AKP, whose four and a half years in power have resulted in economic stability and strong growth, Keyman said.

The prospect of no centre-left voice in the new parliament gave rise to an unprecedented grassroots movement that nominated an outspoken human rights defender, Baskin Oran, as an independent candidate from Istanbul.

Oran, a respected international relations professor and a close associate of slain ethnic Armenian journalist Hrant Dink, says he is campaigning for the rights of "all the oppressed and alienated" -- from Kurds and non-Muslim minorities to the unemployed and homosexuals.

He focuses on expanding Kurdish rights as a means of ending the insurgency in the southeast.

"Nationalism harms the nation most, because it triggers counter-nationalism," one of his campaign slogans says.


Güncelleme Tarihi: 19 Temmuz 2007, 01:37