Global Freedom under Pressure…

Anxious Dictators, Wavering Democracies!


© photocredit

Turkey received a downward trend arrow due to renewed violence between the government and Kurdish militants, terrorist attacks by the Islamic State group, and intense harassment of opposition members and media outlets by the government and its supporters ahead of November parliamentary elections.


Turkey held two parliamentary elections in 2015 amid an exceptionally polarized and volatile political environment. Prior to the first vote in June, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan campaigned for the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), hoping that it could gain 60 percent of parliamentary seats, which would allow it to call a referendum on constitutional changes to create a stronger presidency. In a surprise result, the AKP failed to secure even a simple parliamentary majority, while the Kurdish-oriented Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) cleared the 10 percent electoral threshold for representation in the legislature. Four parties entered the parliament, but negotiations to form a coalition government failed, and new elections were called for November. In this round, the AKP won 49 percent of the vote, an eight-point improvement on the June result, and 317 seats, enough for a majority but short of the 60 percent goal. Nonetheless, Erdoğan indicated that he would seek the support required to press ahead with the adoption of a presidential system.

The political and security situation surrounding the November elections was deeply affected by violence that rocked Turkey throughout the second half of 2015. In July, a bombing at a gathering of Kurdish student activists in Suruç, a town on the Syrian border, killed 33 people. The Syrian-based Islamic State (IS) militant group was blamed for the attack, but many Kurds accused the government of complicity or failure to address the threat from IS. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group then killed two Turkish police officers in retaliation, setting off broader fighting that ended a two-year cease-fire between the PKK and the government. By year’s end, hundreds of soldiers and police, PKK fighters, and civilians had been killed. Armed gangs of Kurdish youth took over parts of some towns in the Kurdish-populated southeast, and government forces moved in to restore control. In addition, in September and October there were some 200 attacks by civilian mobs against offices of the HDP, which the AKP and nationalist parties accused of being a political wing of the PKK. Over 40 HDP mayors were arrested or removed from office. Also in October, a bombing in Ankara that was attributed to IS killed 102 people at another largely Kurdish demonstration.

A continued crackdown on the media added to the pressure on the electoral environment. Throughout the year, dozens of journalists were arrested and prosecuted for insulting the president and other government officials or for allegedly supporting terrorist organizations. Numerous websites were also blocked. A week before the November elections, the government seized the assets of a major conglomerate, including two daily newspapers, Millet and Bugün, and two television channels that had been critical of the ruling party. [Full Country Report; Turkey]



§ FREEDOM IN THE WORLD – 2016 [Full report]

§ Democracies in Distress [Full analysis]

§ [Maps + Graphics]

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