Turks Begin Voting Again For A New Parliament
RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Polls have closed in Turkey in what was the second general election there in just five months. The election campaign took place in an atmosphere of fear and violence. Voting, though, was largely peaceful. Today's election has implications for some of the biggest issues in the region, the war in Syria, the battle against ISIS and the European migrant crisis. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Istanbul. He joins us now. Peter, the leaders of the party that's been in power for over a decade, the AKP, they are asking voters to give them back the parliamentary majority that they lost in June. Are they likely to get it?
PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Well, that is exactly what Turks have been asking themselves for weeks now. And the polls, which aren't always reliable here, don't really give a clear answer. There are reports today, by the way, of a few scuffles near polling stations. The atmosphere is a bit tense, but the voting has been mainly orderly. The ruling party, the AKP, is almost certain to get more votes than any other party. The big question is, will it be enough to govern by themselves, or will they have to form a coalition? Turkey's president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he's the one who co-founded this party. And he was in charge when it became a lot more authoritarian in recent years. He was talking to reporters the other day, and he was saying that the message is, it is really vital for voters to avoid a coalition government.
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PRESIDENT RECEP TEYYIP ERDOGAN: (Speaking Turkish).
KENYON: Now, what he's saying here is that this vote is a breaking point for Turkey and that stable countries don't have coalitions. They have single-party rule. So his biggest hope is that that's what will happen, a governing majority for one party. He doesn't say which party. But everybody here knows only the AKP could pull that off.
MARTIN: What does that mean for all of the other opposition parties? Do any of them have a chance?
KENYON: Well, to give you an idea of the handicap they're working under, normally a Turkish campaign event is very loud, very raucous. I went to one for the opposition HDP. That's a pro-Kurdish party. It was in the basement of a shopping mall. It was very anonymous, small crowd, had to be searched three times. The security fears are tremendous because there was a huge explosion, suicide bomb attack, in Ankara last month, killed over a hundred people. The HDP and other opposition parties just said, we're not going to expose our supporters to that. We're going to cancel all our big rallies and events. Besides that attack, which was blamed on ISIS, there's been renewed fighting with Kurdish militants by the army. And in general, there's been this huge crackdown on media critical of the government. The atmosphere is one of fear. And everyone's wondering, will that translate into more votes for the AKP or not?
MARTIN: We know that Turkey is an important NATO ally for the U.S. in the region. Peter, is this election likely to affect that relationship between the U.S. and Turkey in any way?
KENYON: The relationship will remain. But how Turkey approaches it may change. The American military is very happy to have the use of Turkish airbases, for instance, to launch attacks in Syria and Iraq, especially since Russia got into the game in Syria. It complicated alliance already. Turkey spends more time bombing Syrian Kurds than it does bombing ISIS. But still, the U.S. relies on it heavily. And who winds up running Turkey could also make a difference in how the country handles these millions of refugees. Will they push on to Europe? Will they stay here? So there could be a lot riding on today's vote.
MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Thanks so much, Peter.
KENYON: You're welcome, Rachel.
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