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Turkish President Attacks Pro-Kurdish Party as Election Nears

Turkish riot police try to protect a person from a group of people of unknown affiliation who were attacking a rally of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) in Erzurum, Turkey, June 4, 2015.
Turkish riot police try to protect a person from a group of people of unknown affiliation who were attacking a rally of pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democracy Party (HDP) in Erzurum, Turkey, June 4, 2015.

Turkey's general election set for Sunday is predicted to be one of closest in more than a decade for the ruling AK Party. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan increasingly is targeting the HDP, the pro-Kurdish opposition party, which is seeking for the first time to enter parliament as a political party. A surge in political attacks on the HDP has coincided with an increase in the number of violent attacks against the party.

With just a few days of campaigning left before the June 7 election, the pro-Kurdish HDP is facing growing political violence. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to try and stop protesters trying to break up a HDP party rally in the eastern city of Erzurum.

In the same region, a mob attacked an HDP campaign bus and set it on fire. The bus's driver was reportedly injured; how seriously is unknown. An HDP activist was fatally shot Wednesday night in southeastern Turkey near his campaign bus, which was raked with gunfire.

Political violence

The wave of political violence follows a speech in the same region Wednesday by Erdogan, in which he strongly condemned the pro-Kurdish party.

"The Armenian lobby, homosexuals and those atheists - all these representatives of sedition benefit from any HDP success," said Erdogan.

Even though the president is bound by the constitution to be impartial, he has been stepping up his political rhetoric against the HDP. Recent opinion polls indicate the party will just pass the 10-percent electoral threshold required for parliamentary representation.

If the party succeeds, the 70 or so seats it would secure in parliament would be at the expense of the ruling AK Party, its only rival in the predominantly Kurdish regions of Turkey.

The AK Party is trying to secure a three-fifths majority to change the constitution and introduce a presidential system, for which Erdogan is pushing.

Sinan Ulgen, a visiting scholar at Carnegie Europe in Brussels, said the rising tensions are an indicator of the importance of the HDP to the outcome of the election and Turkey’s future.

"If HDP clears the 10-percent threshold, that would totally eliminate the possibility for the ruling party to obtain three-fifths majority which is needed for any constitutional amendment to [be] put for a referendum," said Ulgen. "And depending on how much support AKP ends up receiving, it may also mean that the ruling party would end up losing its simple majority in parliament."

Universal condemnation

The HDP party claims it has been the target of more than 100 attacks since the election started, including bombings at its offices in the provincial cities of Mersin and Adana.

Erdogan also is stepping up his attacks on the domestic press, accusing it of working with international media organizations as part of a conspiracy against him and Turkey.

Earlier this week, Erdogan's lawyer filed a complaint with the Ankara chief prosecutor's office demanding that Can Dundar, editor of Cumhuriyet, one of Turkey's most established newspapers, be given two life sentences plus an additional 42 years in prison for publishing a video purporting to show an illegal arms shipment to Syrian rebels.

Erdogan accused the paper of conspiring against him and his government and warned Dundar would be made to pay a heavy price.

The case against Dundar has drawn condemnation nationally and internationally. Emma Sinclair Webb, Turkey researcher at Human Rights Watch, said the charges against him are unacceptable

"Cumhuriyet newspaper and Can Dundar were doing their jobs as journalists. And to clamp down on and threaten on a newspaper and its editor with basically high treason, spying, terrorism and coup plotting charges, is absolutely unacceptable in a democratic country," said Webb.

Observers warn that with the outcome of the elections seemingly balanced on a knife's edge [meaning the outcome is uncertain], political tensions are likely to rise in the last few days of campaigning.