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 Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe said.
“Unfortunately, the campaign for these elections was characterised by unfairness and, to a serious degree, fear,” said Andreas Gross, head of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) delegation.
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 labelled the AKP win a “victory of fear”.
Columnist Can Dundar said Turkey’s already highly polarised 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.
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 polarisation are non-existent,” he told thousands of supporters outside AKP headquarters in Ankara.
While AKP supporters were jubilant, many Turks greeted the election result with deep disquiet.
“I’m horrified. I don’t want to live in this country anymore because I don’t know what is awaiting us,” said Guner Soganci, 26, a waitress in Istanbul.
The AKP lost its majority for the first time in 13 years in June when the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) entered parliament in a historic breakthrough.
Analysts said the resurgence in fighting between government forces and the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) a month later appeared to strengthen the ruling party at the expense of the HDP, which barely scraped past the 10-percent threshold need to remain in parliament.
Besides the HDP, there was also disappointment for the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which had hoped to join a coalition, and support for the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) also fell.
Turkey was rocked in the run-up to the election by a string of attacks blamed on the Islamic State group, including twin suicide bombings at an Ankara peace rally last month that killed 102 people.