30 Mar 2014

Key issues facing Turkey over crunch local elections

Turkey is holding local elections today amid a corruption scandal involving embattled Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and a ban on Twitter and YouTube. What’s really at stake?

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan

The elections will be a test for Mr Erdogan’s AK Party after criticism over a police crackdown on anti-government protesters last year and online leaks of top secret talks.

Here are the key questions surrounding the elections across the country.

Why is Mr Erdogan a controversial figure?

A video was leaked online of army and civilian chiefs discussing possible military intervention in Syria.

Intelligence chief Hakan Fidan is allegedly heard on the tape saying he could send four men to Syria with eight rockets, in order to attempt to bring Turkey into the conflict.

Mr Erdogan has accused the Hizmet movement of running a “dirty campaign” of espionage to implicate him in corruption and topple him.

Why was YouTube and Twitter banned in Turkey?

Mr Erdogan barred the video-sharing site after the leaking of the crunch talks over Syria and anonymous postings of hacked phone calls containing alleged instances of corruption.

He blocked Twitter after accusing the site of violations of privacy. Some Turks have found a way around the ban and tweeted jokes about Mr Erdogan’s squeaky voice during a campaign speech, with one user writing: “We have asked you to be a world leader, and all you have become is a Teletubby.”

Why is Turkey important to the West?

NATO allies see Turkey as occupying a crucial position on the edge of a volatile Middle East.

Why has Mr Erdogan upset the police?

Police raided the homes and arrested businessmen close to Mr Erdogan and sons of ministers.

Mr Erdogan responded by sacking members of the police force and judiciary he accused of serving cleric Fethullah Gulen, a former ally, who controls schools and businesses and runs the Hizmet movement.

What do Mr Erdogan’s supporters say?

They claim the Prime Minister has helped rein in an army that had toppled four governments in 40 years.

And Turkey could return to the chaotic coalitions and economic crises of the 1990s if Mr Erdogan fails in the local elections.

Who are the AK Party’s main rivals?

The opposition CHP, who have suffered three successive defeats to Mr Erdogan, believes Turkey will turn against him over the graft scandal and his moves strengthen the intelligence agency.

CHP head Kemal Kilicdaroglu said: “He [Erdogan] will do or say anything because he is fighting for his life, because he knows full well what will happen if he loses power.

“He knows that he will be jailed. He would most likely have to flee the country.”

What other problems is the Prime Minister facing?

He is trying to stave off a Kurdish insurgency. On Thursday, a court released 45 defendants accused of links to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group.

The PKK insurgency has resulted in over 40,000 people being killed in fighting since 1984, most of them Kurds.