Turkey’s AK Party eyes early election as polls show rising support

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Expectations of a snap election in November are growing within Turkey’s ruling AK Party, officials say, with its leadership emboldened by recent opinion polls and looking increasingly cool to the idea of a coalition government.

The Islamist-rooted AKP absorbed a stinging election setback in June when it lost single-party rule for the first time since taking power in 2002, taking just under 41 percent of the vote. To form a government, it now needs a junior coalition partner.

However, the government may reckon it can soon recover enough votes to govern alone thanks in part, critics say, to the military campaign it launched last month against Kurdish insurgents in the southeast and in northern Iraq as well as Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in northern Syria.

The government calls this a “synchronized war on terror,” Critics say the security crackdown is aimed mainly at Kurdish militants and geared to winning back nationalist votes.

The AKP has been in talks with the main opposition, the secularist CHP, but progress has been slow. President Tayyip Erdogan, who founded the AKP, is said to favor a snap election, in the hope his party could regain a clear majority.

“Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, whom I mandated to form the government, can take steps for an early election or to form a coalition,” Erdogan said in a speech on Wednesday. “However, his opinions must match the opinions of the other party. It is not as if he will commit suicide if they do not match.”

A survey by pollster Andy-Ar on Wednesday showed AKP support had risen some two percentage points since the election two months ago to 42.8 percent. It was unclear if this would be enough to regain its exclusive hold on government. However, two other recent polls have suggested the AKP would take enough votes to return to government alone.

Davutoglu is set to meet the CHP leader on Thursday for their expected final round of coalition talks but told reporters late on Tuesday an “historic announcement” should not be expected after the meeting.

Erdogan also said on Tuesday the constitution did not allow for any relaxation of the Aug. 23 deadline to form a government, underlining that time was running out.

“Society has bought into an early election. We cannot ignore this. But we have to wait for what Prime Minister Davutoglu tells us today,” one senior AKP official told Reuters ahead of a meeting of party leaders on Wednesday afternoon.

AKP officials said the prospect of a Nov. 22 election, one week after a G20 summit in Turkey, is gaining credence within the party and was “one step closer” than the preference of a coalition with the CHP or nationalist MHP.

A senior CHP official also cooled coalition expectations and said party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu was to hand out election brochures at a meeting of its leadership on Wednesday.

“The AKP does not want to form a government with us. We say ‘let’s run the country together,’ they say ‘no, don’t interfere’,” he told Reuters. He said the AKP had proposed to them a short-term coalition, while the CHP had pressed for a four-year reform government.

The Andy-Ar survey, results of which were published in Haberturk newspaper, showed support for the CHP rising to 27 percent, while support for the MHP and pro-Kurdish HDP appeared to be receding.

The results of opinion polls commissioned by the AKP between Aug. 1-10 are also seen as playing a role in guiding the decision on whether to seek an early election, but recent polls gave some party members cause for concern.

“I think an early election is a gamble. We appear to be up 2-2.5 percentage points from before according to surveys currently in our hands. But this might not be enough for single-party rule,” another senior party official said.

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