ISTANBUL: Turkey’s Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party prepared Monday to form a single-party government after a stunning election win that strengthens the hand of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan but drew sharp criticism from the White House and European election observers.
The conservative Islamic-leaning AKP reclaimed the majority it lost just five months ago, confounding opinion polls that had predicted another hung parliament.
Erdogan declared the outcome a vote for “stability” after renewed conflict with Kurdish rebels and a wave of bloody jihadist attacks, and called on the entire world to respect the result.
But the United States, a key ally of Turkey, and two European election observer missions expressed concern over the campaign, particularly the crackdown on media critical of Erdogan.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the US was “deeply concerned that media outlets and individual journalists critical of the government were subject to pressure and intimidation during the campaign.”
“We have both publicly and privately raised our concerns about freedom of the press, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly in Turkey,” he said.
His remarks echoed the findings of European election observers.
While voters were given a choice between genuine alternatives, “the rapidly diminishing choice of media outlets, and restrictions on freedom of expression in general” caused “serious concerns,” Ignacio Sanchez Amor, head of an observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.
“Unfortunately, the campaign for these elections was characterized by unfairness and, to a serious degree, fear,” said Andreas Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation.
‘Victory of fear’
The clampdown on media continued on Monday, with the arrest of the editor of Istanbul-based magazine Nokta over a cover story on Erdogan’s win entitled: “The start of civil war in Turkey.”
The magazine was accused of inciting the public to commit a crime, the Dogan news agency said.
Turkey’s main opposition Cumhuriyet newspaper meanwhile labeled the AKP win a “victory of fear.”
Columnist Can Dundar said Turkey’s already highly polarized society was split in two between “those who are ready to die for Erdogan and those who cannot stand him anymore.”
The AKP secured almost half the vote to secure 317 seats in the 550-member parliament, according to the latest results.
Turkish stocks and the lira soared on the results, which ended the political uncertainty stoked by the inconclusive June vote.
Signs of autocratic rule
The outcome is a huge personal victory for the 61-year-old “Sultan” Erdogan, who may now be able to secure enough support for his ambitions to become a US-style executive president.
That has set alarm bells ringing about how much power will rest in the hands of a man who critics say is already showing signs of growing authoritarianism.
Analysts voiced concerns that a stronger AKP could pursue its attacks on opposition-held businesses and media and maintain a hardline stance on the Kurdish crisis.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on all parties to agree on a new civilian constitution to replace a 1980 military-drafted charter.
“Let’s work together towards a Turkey where conflict, tension and polarization are non-existent,” he told thousands of supporters outside AKP headquarters in Ankara.