03/26/2009, 00.00
TURKEY
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Erdogan heads for a vote: he will win, but he will lose support

by Geries Othman
The economic crisis, accusations of corruption, and the failure to keep many promises made in the last elections are weighing against the Turkish prime minister, engaged in a campaign of rallies and inaugurations. Neither the governing party nor the opposition parties have presented any real plans to break the inertia.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - There are only a few days left before the administrative elections in Turkey. It is a crucial electoral appointment for the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan. 48 million voters have been called to renew the provincial councils and to elect mayors and advisers for the administrations of 2,941 municipalities. It will be a genuine test of the solidity of the AKP, which currently holds twelve out of the sixteen most important cities in the country, including Istanbul and Ankara.

Although there are nineteen parties on the list, only four are in serious competition. The AKP, the Justice and Development Party, is currently in power for the second consecutive time under the leadership of prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The CHP, the Republican People's Party, heir of the Kemalist tradition, is the main opposition party. Then there are the MHP, the right-wing nationalist party often equated with the Grey Wolves, and the DTP, the Democratic Society Party, which is especially strong in the southeast of the country and holds the administration of the city of Diyarbakir, the Kurdish stronghold.

Turkey is coming to these administrative elections with a disastrous economic situation, with accusations of corruption from all sides, with negotiations for entry into the European Union proceeding slowly, and with a series of unrealized promises for more democracy and development. In spite of these contentious issues, however, the electoral debates have been dominated by disputes between parties devoid of any real plans for breaking the inertia, and without any real future projects for reviving the country.

Prime minister Erdogan, who wants to win at all costs, has taken the field personally, with constant appearances on television and in the newspapers, in front of massive crowds and all sorts of inaugurations. Since the beginning of the electoral campaign, he has participated in 70 demonstrations and rallies, visiting 67 out of the 81 provinces, and has presided over inaugurations on an almost daily basis: hospitals, cultural and sporting centers, schools, the new rapid bus line connecting the European and Asian parts of Istanbul, and the mini-extension of the subway system in modern Constantinople.

Although recent surveys show that 46% of those who will vote miss the reformist Erdogan of the first term, and 48% accuse the AKP of abandoning its progressive ideas, this party of Islamic inspiration nonetheless has a base that, according to a survey conducted for CNN by the agency A&G, totals 39.8%, a proportion that has certainly fallen since the 2007 elections, when Erdogan won with 46.6% of the vote, but is still significant. If the AKP wins, it will not be due solely to the charisma of Recep Tayyip and his team, but above all to the lack of a true political alternative.

But the governing party must also come to terms with the many suspicions that have emerged against it. First among these are the accusations of corruption against some of its members, and even more so the scandal that months ago implicated Deniz Feneri, a Turkish charitable organization tried in Frankfurt for diverting funds raised from Turks living abroad to the AKP, instead of giving them to the poor. Then there was the controversy over the 50 million euros earmarked for "social assistance" and distributed by the government mainly in the southern part of the country, with a Kurdish majority population and one of the poorest areas in Turkey. Potential voters have been given "complimentary" brand new household appliances, like refrigerators, television sets, and air conditioners.

As if this were not enough, the DTP has denounced many irregularities in voter registration. According to this party, the government, which is aiming at winning the municipal administrations in the east, has encouraged the attribution of false addresses to 1,630 soldiers, 1,200 teachers, and 2,000 citizens in Adana, who are charged with having been given residency in a few Kurdish cities solely in order to allow them to vote in those areas. Other illegal voter registration practices have been revealed by the Dicle News Agency.

In addition to this, according to Fuat Keyman, a professor of international relations at Koc University in Istanbul, the credibility of the democratic process is being damaged by the sudden rise in registered voters, whose numbers have grown by 6 million. "If it is true that the elections demonstrate that there is democracy in Turkey," Keyman continues, "this does not necessarily imply that it is a vital, healthy democracy." And the party secretaries are well aware of this. In order to avoid electoral fraud, which has always been very widespread, they have organized a veritable army of observers to be sent to polling places to ensure a regular voting process. The AKP itself will place one representative and nine observers at every polling place, at an overall cost of about 1.3 million euros. The CHP will also use three observers at each polling place, while the MHP will count on its extensive popular support, and the DTP will provide one observer per polling place.

 
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