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Erdogan goes on warpath for a landslide victory in June elections

Apr 25,2018 - Last updated at Apr 25,2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone on the warpath to convince his country's voters to give him a wide margin of victory in the June 24 snap presidential election forwarded from November 2019. A landslide would enable him to expand his authority and strengthen his grip on power.

Erdogan's nightmare is a repeat of his narrow 51 per cent against 49 per cent victory in the April 2017 constitutional referendum, which authorised him to make changes enhancing his power. This election will usher in the shift from a parliamentary to a presidential system of governance mandated by the referendum by eliminating the office of prime minister and creating an executive presidency. This transformation will also enable Erdogan to remain in office until 2023 and preside over celebrations of the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the Turkish state.

Erdogan has called an early election because he fears he will lose votes due to economic malaise, although 2017 was a bumper year for growth. The Turkish currency has fallen in value, inflation is rising, foreign exchange reserves are declining and deficits are growing.

Since the failed coup in mid-2016, Erdogan has orchestrated a continuing crackdown, involving the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Turkish officers, soldiers, policemen, journalists and human rights activists. Hundreds of thousands of civil servants, teachers, judges and prosecutors have lost their jobs. He has detained the entire leadership of the leftist Kurdish party, which emerged as a power in the mid-2015 election. His purges have alienated millions of Turks. The election will be held during a renewed period of emergency rule that gives Erdogan latitude to carry on with his repressive policies.

Erdogan has also stepped up efforts to transform Turkey from a strongly secular state into a faith-based state, angering adherents of the policies introduced by the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and supporters of the country's largely secular opposition parties.

These parties have been galvanised into forming alliances and blocs with the object of depriving Erdogan of a more than 50 per cent vote he needs to exploit the new authorities due to accrue from his executive presidency.

In 2015, Erdogan lost the votes of conservative, devout Kurds who had counted on him to deliver on pledges made in 2002 to normalise relations with the Kurds by bringing them into the Turkish political mainstream as Muslims. This involved recognising their Kurdish identity, culture and language. However, in the June 2015 election, a progressive pro-Kurdish party took votes from Erdogan's Justice and Development Party, depriving it of its majority in parliament and prompting him to call a fresh election for that November.

A furious Erdogan halted negotiations with Turkey's dissident Kurds and renewed military operations against the Turkish Kurdish Workers' party with the aim of stoking ethnic Turkish nationalism. This led Erdogan to form an alliance with the far-right Nationalist Action Party, while the army devastated entire Kurdish towns and urban districts. He also threatened to take action against the Iraqi Kurds' 2017 declaration of independence and has recently marshalled his forces to intervene against Iraqi Kurds in the Yezidi Sinjar homeland in northeastern Iraq.

Over the past two months, Erdogan invaded the Kurdish majority district of Afrin in Syria's Aleppo province, routed the area's Kurdish defenders — seen by Ankara as allies of Turkey's rebellious Kurds — and drove 137,000 Syrian Kurdish civilians from the enclave. He is in the process of replacing them with fundamentalist Syrian Arab fighters from Eastern Ghouta, which was recaptured by the Syrian army earlier this month.

Erdogan has stirred tensions between Turkey and Greece and Turkey and Cyprus, risking clashes at a time of ongoing crises in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey has increased incursions by its warplanes into Greek airspace and dispatched naval ships to deploy near small Greek islands lying off the Turkish coast.

Last week, Turkish fighters, reportedly, harassed a helicopter bearing Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and the military chief of staff Admiral Evangelos Apostolakkis while they were flying over the Aegean. After Greece deployed its own jets, the Turkish planes left the scene.

This incident took place a week after a Greek pilot died when his jet crashed near the island of Skyros after intercepting Turkish planes that had entered Greek airspace.

Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos suggested that since 1974, when Turkey occupied northern Cyprus, Greece has been in an undeclared war with Turkey. He specifically mentioned Greek airforce pilots, who have died in Turkish intercepts while patrolling in Greek airspace over the Aegean.  "We have dead heroes who fell in the line of duty and these actions happen only during war," he stated, blaming Turkey's current belligerency on the coming elections.

Turkey sent warships to scare off an Italian oil rig set to drill for gas in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone and dispatched a recently-acquired prospecting ship to the waters off Cyprus to challenge the republic's exploitation of known gas reserves. Turkey has berated Egypt for agreeing to joint gas development projects with Cyprus.

Turkey seeks to block a planned cross-Mediterranean pipeline that would deliver Israeli and Cypriot gas to Greece, while a project piping Israeli gas to Turkey has been put on hold. Erdogan has alienated Israel by condemning its policy of besieging and blockading Gaza, killing Palestinian protesters and consolidating its occupation of Jerusalem.

Erdogan's stands against Israel and Syria's US-backed Kurds have been cheered by Turkish hawks but upset Washington, formerly a close ally. The European Union (EU) has frozen Turkey's bid for membership due to its persecution of the Kurds, heavy-handed purge of dissidents from all shades of opinion, human rights violations and threats against EU members Greece and Cyprus. The EU called on Erdogan to lift the state of emergency, which he has been using to consolidate his power and either cower or remove serious opponents to his take-over. The emergency remains in place. 

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