A mysterious explosion Friday at a rally for the leading opposition party was just the latest surprise in a heated final week of electoral campaigning in Turkey.
The blast took place at a rally for the People’s Democratic Party (abbreviated DHP), an upstart political entity which hopes to steal parliamentary seats from the ruling AKP party. The rally was in the southeastern city of Diyarbakır, an ethnically Kurdish base for the Kurdish-led DHP.
The explosion in the crowd, which came right before DHP leader Selahattin Demirtaş took the stage, was reportedly caused by a faulty power generator. But local press pointed out that it comes after several weeks of scattered, anonymous attacks on DHP campaign vehicles and offices.
The Islamist-leaning AKP has held a majority of Turkey’s parliament since 2002. When Turks vote Sunday, the AKP hopes to expand its current simple majority of 311 seats to at least 330, a three-fifths grip which would allow it to trigger a public referendum on the constitution. One of the party’s goals is to reform the presidency — currently held by the AKP’s former Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan — granting the largely ceremonial role more executive powers akin to those of the U.S. president. (RELATED: Turkish Election Might Change The Balance Of The Entire Middle East)
Turkey’s parliament guarantees seats to any party that wins at least 10 percent of the popular vote. The DHP is currently polling between 9 and 11 percent; a win could mean the difference between a guaranteed constitutional referendum and another AKP simple majority. If it wins enough votes, and the sometimes-shaky Turkish electoral system proves both fair and free, the DHP could even shrink the AKP’s current seat count.
Since stepping down as head of government in 2014, Erdoğan has exercised unusual control over the presidency, a role meant to be politically neutral. He has also explicitly campaigned for AKP allies in this year’s general election, which some critics say violates the constitutional definition of the presidency.
He is also seen as having used the prestige of the office for excessive personal gain. Erdoğan has built a massive 1,000-room presidential palace in the capital city, Ankara. Earlier this week, the head of another party accused Erdoğan of having gold-plated toilet seats in the palace. In response, Erdoğan invited his rival to inspect the palace, promising to resign if he found any golden toilets. (RELATED: Turkey’s President Takes Credit For Obamacare)
For his own part, Erdoğan has accused his rivals of “sedition” against Turkey itself. In a speech Wednesday, he claimed that “the Armenian lobby, homosexuals” and journalists were all “benefactors” of the HDP and therefore untrustworthy. Turkey’s Armenians, who number around 50,000, consistently criticize the AKP for its unwillingness to acknowledge the 1915 Armenian genocide.
As election day approaches, Turkish voters are pondering their economic well-being, the state of political freedom, and the threat of terrorism on their 500-mile border with Syria. They are also facing the prospect that, as the BBC put it, “this could be the last democratic election before Turkey becomes an autocracy.”
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