Jun 09 2018

Candidates vying for Turkish voters in countdown to elections -Turkey media roundup

Broad coverage on Monday was given to the victory of Ali Koç, a businessman and member of one of Turkey’s wealthiest families, in the presidential elections for the Istanbul-based football club Fenerbahçe.

His victory signalled an end of an era for Aziz Yıldırım, who had led the club as president for 20 years until losing last Sunday’s election with around 29 percent of the vote to Koç’s 71 percent.

Some observers in Turkey took the defeat of the established leader, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan expressed his support for, at the hands of a popular upstart as an omen for the coming Jun. 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, in which Erdoğan is running as the incumbent.

One of the electoral promises made by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), which took a prominent place on the pro-government daily HaberTürk’s front page on Monday, was the vow to end national military service in Turkey.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım pledged a reform to allow citizens to buy their way out of national service, which is currently, except in rare exceptions, compulsory for at least six months for all males 20-41 years of age.

The secular newspaper Cumhuriyet’s front page on Monday publicised a smartphone app for use by observers at ballot boxes in upcoming elections.

The app will allow users to instantly transmit the results from ballot boxes they are present at to a central system, in order to reduce the chance of electoral fraud. Recent laws unveiled by the AKP, which allow the government to move ballot boxes and count votes which do not bear the official stamp, have increased fear of fraud.

One of the major stories on Tuesday, carried on the front page of Hürriyet and other newspapers, was the deal announced with the United States after Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu’s Monday meeting in Washington with his U.S. counterpart, Mike Pompeo.

The pair announced they had agreed on a “roadmap” for the northern Syrian area of Manbij, which is currently governed by groups including the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), a militia that Turkey considers a terrorist organisation.

Turkey has been pressing the United States, which has a military presence in Manbij, to secure the withdrawal of the YPG, which it sees as a serious security threat.

The roadmap announced on Monday will mean the YPG withdraws by the end of the year, according to Çavuşoğlu’s statements.

Headline pieces on Cumhuriyet and the liberal Islamist Karar on Tuesday questioned the strength of the AKP’s election alliance with the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli’s insistence on granting a general amnesty before the upcoming election is “Dangerous obstinacy,” according to the front page headline in Karar, which warned it could lead to the release of dangerous criminals including rapists and murderers.

Cumhuriyet, meanwhile, published a front page piece questioning whether MHP voters would cast their votes for Erdoğan, who is the presidential candidate for both parties, nothing that many are dissatisfied with the AKP leader. This could result in significant losses to the nationalist Good Party, which was founded and is headed by Meral Akşener, formerly of the MHP.

A number of newspaper on Wednesday carried similar headlines on the Manbij roadmap, with Hürriyet, Vatan and Türkiye all running stories around the reported agreement that YPG forces will disarm before leaving the area.

Meanwhile, the pro-government Takvim and Star newspapers’ headlines both dealt with Turkey’s military operations against Kurdish fighters in Qandil, northern Iraq – “Manbij is done, now Qandil’s turn.”

The mountainous Qandil region in northeast Iraq is known as a stronghold for the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), an armed group has sought Kurdish autonomy through armed struggle since the 1980s and is classified as a terrorist organisation by Turkey. Turkey considers the YPG to be the PKK’s Syrian wing.

Cumhuriyet’s headline reported a poll finding that Muharrem İnce, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP)’s presidential candidate, is in line to receive over 30 percent of the vote in the first round of the June 24 presidential election.

The opposition “Nation Alliance” led by the CHP and Good Party has decided to run several candidates to minimise Erdoğan’s chances of receiving a clear majority in the vote, which would result in a first round victory.

If Erdoğan receives less than 50 percent in the first round, the elections will go to head-to-head run-offs with one opposition candidate; with 30 percent or more of the vote, that is bound to be İnce.

By Thursday, a large part of the pro-government press had taken up the war drums to announce the Turkish military’s activities in Qandil, with Türkiye, Güneş, Vatan and Akşam running headlines on the story.

Operations near Qandil have been ongoing for months, leading many to see the recent wave of interest as a piece of electoral propaganda by the ruling party.

The left-wing daily Sözcü’s front page reported on Fatih Portakal, a journalist at Fox TV, whose report on a hospital in the southern Turkish city of Mersin landed him into hot water with the authorities.

The Mersin City Hospital was opened last year with great fanfare by AKP officials, who claim it is one of the most advanced in Europe. Portakal’s news reports, however, related patients who say they have difficulty getting around the huge hospital and who are dissatisfied with its remote location.

The report angered Development Minister Lütfi Elvan, who claimed Portakal was making news at the behest of dark circles who intended harm to Turkey.

Portakal responded by opening a lawsuit against Elvan. Days later, prosecutors began an investigation on the journalist after the Ministry of Health complained that he had insulted a state organ, a crime in Turkey.

Pro-government press on Friday devoted wide coverage to Erdoğan’s comments that emergency rule in Turkey “may be lifted” after the June elections.

The state of emergency was announced in July 2016, shortly after the government survived a coup attempt, and has been in place since then.

Lifting emergency rule has been one of Muharrem İnce’s main electoral vows; Erdoğan’s comments indicate that he sees the popularity of ending a policy that he is largely responsible for.

The left-wing daily Birgün’s front page reported that Good Party leader Meral Akşener and Ahmet Şık, an investigative journalist and candidate for the pro-minority Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), have pledged their support to Muharrem İnce should he progress to the second round in the presidential election.