European election observers voiced concerns on Monday (2 November) over Turkey's snap elections that saw the ruling AK Party sweep back to power. A jubilant President Tayyip Erdogan cast the return of Turkey's Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party to single-party rule as a vote for stability that the world must respect but opponents fear it heralds growing authoritarianism and deeper polarisation.
At a news conference in the Turkish capital Ankara, the chairman of the Monitoring Delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of The Council Of Europe (Pace), Andreas Gross, told reporters fear had adversely affected the election process.
"Fear is the enemy of democracy, enemy of free choice, and in this sense we are disappointed by the quality of the process, and in light of this, it is even more vital - this is an appeal that the president works in the future for a more inclusive political process; he does not overlook with the power that he got," he said.
The result handed the AKP 317 of the 550 seats in parliament, only 13 short of the number Erdogan would need for a national referendum on constitutional changes he wants to forge a presidential system granting him full executive powers. The European Observer mission urged Erdogan to unite the polarised country of 77 million, which is reeling from five months of political strife and resurgent violence between the PKK and Turkish armed forces.
"He has to unite again what has been divided in the last five months, and we appeal to him do this in a wise way, and not in a militant way how it happened in the last five months," said Gross.
The overall verdict of the Organisation for the Security and Cooperation of Europe (OSCE) was that the elections were mainly free and fair, despite the difficult security situation in the troubled southeast, which prevented the European monitors from deploying there.
"The challenging security environment, in particular in the southeast, happened with a high number of violent incidents, including attacks against party members' campaign staff party premises, hindered contestants' ability to campaign freely," the special coordinator of the OSCE, Ignacio Sanchez Amor, told the news conference.
"The media is clearly under serious pressure in this country. Criminal investigations of journalists and media outlets for support of terrorism and defamation of the president has had a chilling effect on media," he added.
The Turkish president's crackdown on opposition media groups and companies linked to a prominent political ally-turned-foe, US-based Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, has increased fears about how far an emboldened Erdogan might go to muzzle the press. The OSCE and Pace sent a team of 112 observers from 34 countries, including 46 parliamentarians, to Turkey.