Turkey dominant party hits the hustings to reclaim lost majority
ISTANBUL (Turkey) - A week ahead of Turkey's second election in five months, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party is working overtime to try to reclaim its parliamentary majority, in a climate of tension fuelled by the Ankara attacks and the reignited Kurdish conflict.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, leader of the dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP), is holding a mass campaign rally in Istanbul on Sunday, hoping to drum up enough support to defy the opinion polls that predict a replay of the June vote.
Turkey is on edge after the October 10 Ankara bombings -- the worst in the country's history -- and security has been ramped up in the run-up to the November 1 poll.
The outcome of the last election stunned the AKP, which after 13 years dominating the political scene won just 40.6 percent of the vote and lost its absolute control of parliament, partly due to the strong performance of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP).
The result was also a severe personal defeat for Erdogan, who had been banking on winning a clear popular mandate for his plans to expand his role into a powerful US-style executive presidency.
And after failing to form a coalition government after the June 7 vote, Davutoglu is pounding the election trail once more -- but facing a vastly different landscape, with the country more polarised than ever.
Since late July, fierce fighting has raged between Turkish security forces and the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), shattering a fragile peace process launched three years ago.
Fear is also stalking the streets after the double suicide bombing on a pro-Kurdish peace rally in the heart of the capital on October 10 that killed 102 people and has been blamed on the Islamic State group.
The attack followed a bombing in town of Suruc on the border with Syria in June that claimed 34 lives and thrust Turkey into a "war on terrorism" against both IS extremists and Kurdish rebels.
Latest opinion polls give the AKP between 40 and 43 percent of the vote but under half of the 550 seats in parliament -- a result which would again force it to share power or organise yet another election.
Erdogan, the long-serving prime minister turned president, is now criss-crossing the country, telling the people he is the guarantor of security and unity in Turkey: "It's me or chaos".
"We will not allow this country to be swallowed by the fire raging in the region, we will not allow it become a country where treachery thrives," he said.
The conservative Islamist-rooted party -- once credited with rebuilding Turkey after years of instability and a deep financial crisis -- is seeking to woo the nationalist vote.
"If the AKP loses power, criminal gangs will roam and the 'white Toros' will be back," his prime minister Davutoglu warned this week, referring to the cars used by death squads in countless unsolved murders and disappearances in the turbulent 1990s.
The AKP has declared the HDP -- led by the charismatic Selahattin Demirtas -- its number one enemy in the election campaign, branding it an accomplice of the PKK "terrorists".
The opposition in turn has accused Erdogan of security lapses over the Ankara attack and failing to crack down on IS, and laid the blame for the resumption of the Kurdish conflict squarely at his door.
"The state is a serial killer," Demirtas charged after the Ankara bombings.
Many of those killed were HDP members, including two of its candidates for parliament, and the HDP has been forced to cancel major campaign rallies because of security fears.
Underscoring the tensions, 12 people were injured in a scuffle on Sunday between Turks and ethnic Kurds as hundreds of Turkish citizens gathered at the embassy to vote.
"The whole world is worried about Turkey... political polarisation has put us in this situation," said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP).