Turks go to polls for new parliament

11:09, June 13, 2011      

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by Wang Xiuqiong, Zheng Jinfa

Retired government adviser Ozmen Kendir tottered out of a classroom at Cankaya Primary School in the Turkish capital of Ankara on Sunday morning, with the hope of seeing a new parliament to his wish.

"I do not think the existing government will change, but there might be a coalition government, I hope," Kendir told Xinhua after casting his vote for the country's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) on the voting day of Turkey's 24th parliamentary elections.

More than 50 million Turks were estimated to go to polls on Sunday to elect 550 lawmakers out of 7,492 candidates from 15 political parties and 203 independent candidates.

Pre-election opinion polls showed the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was heading toward a comfortable lead of 42 percent to 48 percent of votes to win a third consecutive term in office. The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) was expected to get 25 percent to 30 percent of votes.

The second biggest opposition party Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) got 11 percent to 13 percent of votes in the opinion polls, just above the 10-percent threshold for the parliamentary representation.

For Kendir, the AKP's likely victory in another period of single-party rule would not be what he craves.

"The existing government is limiting freedom of talking, freedom of writing, freedom of expressing yourself. In terms of economic policy, they should cover the whole strata of the population, but the existing government only makes wealthy people get better and better off, while the poor ones get worse off," he explained.

Kendir is not alone in favoring the CHP, which saw a new leader replace sex scandal-stained former chairman Deniz Baykal last year and a much higher support rate than its vote of 20.7 percent in last elections in 2007.

However, few doubt that the AKP will continue to dominate, with an unchallengeable economic record as well as EU-inspired reforms to shake off coup era dust and kudos-winning diplomacy in its region.

Founded in 2001 by former members of several other parties including the banned Islamist Virtue Party, the AKP came into office just after economic crises that marked the 1990s of Turkey.

Under the AKP rule, Turkey became the world's 17th largest economy and, according to AKP's campaign promise, will shove into the world's top 10 economies by 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

The opposition accuses the AKP of shifting capital to the pro- government circles and broadening the wealth gap. But economic data remained convincing to the public as the country's economy rebounded from the global recession last year with an 8.9 percent growth.

"The AKP has brought some real benefits. It's successful in handling the economy," bus driver Nevzat Akcinar told Xinhua.

His view was echoed by businessman Vedat Temiz, who said there were more hospitals and better medical services after the AKP took office.

Meanwhile, opponents worry about less political democracy once the AKP has a two-third majority in the new parliament.

Seriye Sezen, a researcher at the Public Administration Institute for Turkey and the Middle East, told Xinhua before the elections she favored a coalition government because of the AKP's growing intolerance of criticism.

She said the AKP lacks check and balance after reducing the power of the constantly defiant army and judicial system.

The CHP's new leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has accused Erdogan of repressing opponents, especially the growing numbers of journalists detained under the AKP rule.

The CHP focused on poverty and unemployment throughout its election campaign. Its family insurance project, promising monthly payment to poor families, has been applauded by crowds.

The AKP aims to win more than 367 parliamentary seats, or a two- third majority, needed to single-handedly push through a new constitution intended by the party's leader, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Opposition parties agree a new constitution is needed but fear Erdogan intends to stay in power as president after 2015 and a new constitution without opposition's nods will pave the way by allowing a presidential system instead of the current parliamentary system.

To soothe concerns over a lack of compromise, Erdogan said Friday his party will seek political consultations with the opposition even if it has a parliamentary majority.

Whether the AKP can get a two-third majority depends on the fate of the MHP, which risks falling under the 10-percent threshold.

The MHP has been shaken by a series of sex scandal videos about its high-level officials in the past weeks. It blamed the AKP for being behind the scandals but the AKP denied it.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said after casting his vote in Ankara on Sunday the political leaders should shelve their disputes and arguments during the election campaigns and work in coordination with each other to govern the country.

Erdogan, who voted in Turkey's biggest city Istanbul, said "it is time for the public to speak."

"They will make a decision," he said, "I believe that our people will enjoy higher freedom."

Source: Xinhua
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