The president controls the media, but for the first time a Kurdish opposition party could enter the parliament – if it passes the 10% threshold.
With just a couple of days to go to Turkey’s general election on June 7, a clear victory for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is hanging in the balance despite a campaign heavily dominated by his conservative political party that has ruled the country since 2002.
The Turkish opposition has to cope with unequal access to media and fewer opportunities than the AKP to put their message across, says Dutch Labor Party MEP Kati Piri, a member of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee who visited Turkey last week. Pressure exerted on journalists make it even more difficult to inform voters of the full range of political programs and the accountability of their elected representatives, she said.
The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which monitors elections for fairness, published an interim report documenting complaints about limitations on media freedom and about the Turkish president’s involvement in the electoral campaign.
Piri, who was in Turkey from May 26 to 31 speaking to political parties and human rights groups, says Erdogan’s AKP might struggle to get an outright majority and additional opposition parties could enter the parliament if they manage to pass the 10% threshold.
Listen to Piri saying that the pro-Kurdish party HDP is at the brinks of entering the Turkish parliament:
Traditionally, western Turkey is a stronghold for opposition parties while in the southeastern Turkish region of Diyarbakir it is the influx of migrants from Syria, who are mostly based in refugee camps there, that is becoming a major political issue.
Listen to Piri saying that the Izmir region deals with an influx of 200,000 refugees fleeing from Syria.
The European Parliament is in favor of constitutional reform in Turkey — something on which Turkish parliamentary parties could not agree on in the last legislative period — to strengthen democracy. At the same time, however, there are fears that Erdogan might engineer a change in the constitution that would grant him stronger powers as president.
In the European Parliament’s annual progress report, which was drafted by Piri and should be put to the vote in June plenary, MEPs expressed concerns about media freedom, freedom of expression and the independent judiciary. Despite that, Piri calls the report “the most constructive in years” and says the European Parliament should not “shut the door to Turkey.”
“It is in the interest of all Europeans and the Turkish people itself that there is a democratic and prosperous Turkey which is a partner of the European Union.”
Erdogan himself has been outspoken of EU “interference”, responding to criticism by EU leaders about arrests of journalists by saying: “The EU should mind its own business.”
Although Turkish society has become more polarized, Piri says one of the few things all parties agree on is the need to continue the EU accession process, launched by the Erdogan government in 2005.
Listen to Piri saying that the AK Party has made progress over the long term, but short-term developments are worrying.
In its progress report, the European Parliament calls upon the EU to be more supportive of independent Turkish media. “The EU can make political statements but also in terms of financial means: we can give incentives for these groups that then know they have the support of cross-party groups in the Parliament,” said Piri.