July 31, 2015 / 5:45 PM / 4 years ago

Early poll prospects grow as Turkish air strikes muddy coalition talks

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey looks increasingly likely to face an early election as its air strikes against Kurdish militants in Iraq and Islamic State in Syria stir nationalist sentiment and coalition talks make little apparent progress.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at a joint media briefing with Indonesia's President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Jakarta, Indonesia July 31, 2015. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

The NATO member launched near-simultaneous bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria a week ago, opening up conflict on two fronts as the ruling AK Party tries to find a junior coalition partner.

The AK Party founded by President Tayyip Erdogan lost its overall majority in June elections after over 10 years in power.

The military action against Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) camps in northern Iraq has cheered the national opposition MHP, long opposed to a peace process with the Kurdish militants and raised the possibility it could support an albeit short-lived minority AKP government.

On Friday, Turkish warplanes scrambled from the southeastern Diyarbakir air base and again struck PKK targets in northern Iraq, CNN Turk television reported, in the eighth wave of attacks since the campaign began last week.

Speaking to journalists traveling with him on a trip to Asia, Erdogan warned of what he saw as the dangers of fragile coalitions and extolled the virtues of single-party rule.

“If we see a positive result from coalition talks, fine. If not, we should immediately appeal to the national will and let the nation decide so that we save ourselves from the current situation,” he was quoted as saying by the Hurriyet newspaper.

“What I am against is a permanent minority government. A minority government on the condition that it will take the country to elections is perfectly possible,” he said, adding that such a government could be formed with outside support from at least one opposition party.

Turkey’s parties have until Aug. 23 to agree a working government or Erdogan could call a new election.

Critics of the president see a fresh vote as his preferred option, offering an opportunity for the AKP to regain its parliamentary majority and govern alone. If the party were to win two thirds of the seats, it could also change the constitution and fulfill Erdogan’s ambition of creating a more powerful executive presidency.

The AKP has been holding initial talks with the main secularist opposition CHP, the second biggest party in parliament, but those discussions are due to end on Monday and there has been little sign of concrete progress.

“You’ve got to form the coalition in your mind first. We can see that there is no coalition with CHP in the minds of AKP,” one senior official from the CHP told Reuters.


Senior AKP officials said the party would conduct a survey of public opinion between Aug. 1 and 10 and decide on the basis of that whether to press ahead with coalition efforts or move towards an early election.

“If these surveys point to a single party government, we can expect coalition talks to be ended. Then we will call for an early election,” one of the officials told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

“But if there’s a different picture, we can expect one of the two alternatives, CHP or MHP. Nobody should overlook the possibility of a coalition with MHP.”

The MHP has previously indicated it does not want to share power with the AKP. But the prospect of the collapse of the Kurdish peace process could prompt it to agree at least to a short-lived deal leading to a new election. AKP officials say they may meet their MHP counterparts next week.

“If the peace process is terminated and our other conditions are met, we would make whatever sacrifice is necessary,” MHP leader Devlet Bahceli told reporters.

Braving nationalist anger, Erdogan introduced tentative reforms on Kurdish rights and in 2012 opened negotiations to try to end a PKK insurgency that has killed 40,000 people since 1984. A fragile ceasefire had been holding since March 2013.

The leader of the pro-Kurdish HDP, whose strong showing in the June election deprived the AKP of its majority, accused Erdogan on Thursday of launching the military action in Syria and Iraq to avenge Kurdish gains.

Government officials deny this, saying the action against the PKK was taken in response to a series of killings of police officers and soldiers by the Kurdish militants in recent weeks. At least 15 members of the security forces have been killed in attacks blamed on the PKK since July 21.

Additional reporting by Randy Fabi in Jakarta, Humeyra Pamuk in Istanbul and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Writing by Nick Tattersall; editing by Ralph Boulton

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