(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)
Voters in Turkey head to the polls on Sunday in what analysts say are critical general elections.
And as Erdem Koc reports from Istanbul, the result could shape more than the next four years.
(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)
In Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, hundreds of thousands of people gathered for a rally of what is the wildcard political party in Sunday’s general elections.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, is running for the first time as a party.
In 2011, its MPs were elected as independents because of Turkey’s controversial election threshold — if a party fails to get 10 per cent of the total vote, it cannot enter parliament.
But the party’s chairman, Selahattin Demirtas, says he is confident his party will pass the threshold this time.
He says his main aim is to push the Kurdish peace process.
(Translated)”Let’s bring peace to Turkey. And with the power we gain here, let’s lead the way on peace to the whole of the Middle East and Arab worlds, starting with Syria and Iraq. The day we come to government, peace in this country will be guaranteed.”
Meanwhile, in Turkey’s third largest city, Izmir, more than a million Turks gathered in the main square for a rally of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP.
The party is Turkey’s oldest, established by the founder of the republic, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
In the last elections in 2011, the CHP won almost 26 per cent of all votes.
Its leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, says the ruling Justice and Development Party has damaged Turkey’s democracy and it is time for change.
(Translated)”In this country, there is no longer the separation of powers. The legislature, judiciary and executive does not balance each other in a healthy way. The executive has power over everything, including the parliament. It’s because of this the civilized world refers to Turkey’s democracy as a ‘hybrid democracy.'”
In 2011, 43 million out of the country’s 50 million eligible voters waited in long lines to re-elect the Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
These elections are being labeled the most critical for the party, which recently parted ways with one of its key supporter bases, the religious Gulen movement.
The AKP’s charismatic founder and prime minister for 11 years, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is now the president of Turkey.
And despite constitutional requirements for the president to be impartial, he has been holding rallies in favour of the party he founded.
President Erdogan is hoping for a so-called super majority following this weekend’s elections, aiming for a two thirds majority of Turkey’s 550-seat parliament.
Such a win would let the AKP change the constitution without calling a referendum.
Mr Erdogan wants to move Turkey to a United States-style presidential system of government, which would give him unprecedented powers.
He says Sunday’s elections are critical to achieving that goal.
(Translated)”On June 7, we need to own the election. We need to be decisive in achieving the highest voter turnout in Turkey’s history. As long as our hearts and souls are united, no one can separate us.”
Analysts say the ruling party appears more divided than ever before, though, as it prepares to enter its 14th year in power.
Various polls suggest the AKP will win the elections, but not with the super majority it hopes.
If the pro-Kurdish HDP party passes the threshold, it could mean the AKP will not have a clear majority.
Both the AKP and HDP have ruled out any coalition plans, although many still believe it is possible.
It is unlikely the AKP would turn to the opposition CHP, but it could reach out to the aptly named Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP.
The MHP says it will end all Kurdish peace negotiations should it come to power, saying Kurds need to accept the authority of the Turkish state.
The party’s long time leader, Devlet Bahceli, says it is time to create history through national unity.
(Translated)”We have the opportunity. You have the decision to make. I invite all those who love Turkey, those whose hearts beat for Turkey, to join us on this long journey. I call on everyone who’s sick of infighting, of uncertainty and of war, to help the MHP get into government. Every vote will determine the future of this beautiful country. Every vote will determine the future of your children.”