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Turkey Lashes Out Over Election Bans in Europe 


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan greets members of parliament from his ruling AK Party during a meeting in Ankara, April 24, 2018.

Snap elections in Turkey are threatening to put Ankara on a collision course with several parts of Europe with large Turkish minorities. Germany, Austria and Amsterdam have ruled out any campaigning by Turkish political parties ahead of the June 24 elections.

Regardless, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated he might be ready to flout the electioneering ban.

"Our preparations abroad are most likely complete by now," Erdogan said. "I will not name the country where, but I will be addressing Turkish citizens at an indoor gym with a capacity to hold about 10,000 to 11,000 [people]. Most likely, we will be gathering in Europe, and God willing, l will make our address."

Germany has been very vocal about campaigning for the elections.

"Our stance in this regard is firm. Campaigning for a foreign country's elections in Germany is not allowed three months prior to the elections," German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said, speaking on the sidelines of the G-7 summit in Toronto. "That applies to everyone, regardless of where they come from."

FILE - Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, March 22, 2018.
FILE - Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit in Brussels, March 22, 2018.

Speeches 'are unwanted'

Austrian and Dutch governments are enforcing similar bans.

"Speeches by Turkish politicians that are part of the election campaign are unwanted in Austria, and we will no longer allow them," Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told a radio station Saturday.

"On the one hand, they block the exercise of most fundamental democratic rights, and on the other hand they argue that there are negative developments in terms of democracy in Turkey," shot back Turkey's European Union Affairs Minister Omer Celik.

The campaign ban will come as a particular blow to Celik's ruling AKP and the re-election bid of its leader, Erdogan.

"Erdogan is a very hands-on politician. He wants to be seen by his constituents, and he believes he has very active constituents in Europe," said political columnist Semih Idiz of the Al-Monitor website. "And these voters are very important. It can swing an election. We are talking about a very, very large number of Turks who are eligible to vote. We are talking about a population of 4 [million to] 5 million people — it's a very important voting basket he can't overlook," added Idiz.

Analysts point out that Turkish voters in Europe have a strong urge to support Erdogan and his AKP party. They say such support could prove decisive in June's election.

Ergogan 'may not make it'

"It's clear that all the opinion polls indicate he [Erdogan] may not make it," said political scientist Cengiz Aktar. "It won't be easy. He will need all the support he can get. It going to be very risky for Turkey's European neighbors."

Last year's referendum to turn Turkey into an executive presidency plunged Turkish-European relations into crisis. The Netherlands and Germany, in particular, voiced strong opposition. Both countries blocked planned rallies after officials cited security concerns or said the rallies could stoke tensions.

The Turkish president responded by saying the two countries were behaving like Nazi regimes.

Analysts say the tough rhetoric played well with many members of Europe's Turkish minority, bolstering Erdogan's campaign to narrowly pass the ballot measure.

Some observers suggest the latest campaign bans could play out again in Erdogan's favor.

"It is very hard to believe that they [Germany, Austria, Amsterdam] are so oblivious to the fact that the more they make campaigning hard for the AKP, the more it will fuel support for the party and its leader to secure victory in the elections," wrote columnist Barcin Yinanc in the Hurriyet Daily News.

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