ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey’s Kurdish opposition accused President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday of breaching the constitution with speeches backing the ruling AK Party ahead of a June election, deepening a rift that could jeopardize a Kurdish peace process.
Erdogan founded the AK Party 13 years ago and served as Prime Minister for over a decade; but he had to hand over its leadership after winning a presidential poll last August, and as head of state is constitutionally bound to stay out of party politics.
The People’s Democratic Party (HDP) complained to the High Elections Board over what it said were Erdogan’s blatantly pro-AKP speeches at a raft of events around the country, most broadcast live on television.
“Erdogan has been acting against his constitutional neutrality and his oath of neutrality, and instead acting as a party leader,” the HDP said in a statement, urging the electoral authorities to issue him with a formal warning.
It remains unclear what sanctions if any the board could impose on Erdogan, who wields considerable authority as Turkey’s most popular politician. He has not shrunk in the past from confrontation with public authorities including the judiciary he has purged of figures he accuses of conspiring to topple him.
Erdogan has used speeches to praise the record of the ruling AKP, pointing to newly built roads and hospitals, whilst launching stinging attacks at rival political parties, accusing them of making unrealistic promises in their manifestos.
Erdogan remains Turkey’s most popular political figure and has maintained influence over daily affairs, in what opponents say is an increasingly authoritarian rule.
“I am on the side of the nation. I am equally close to each party. But there is obviously a party in my heart,” he said in a speech at an opening ceremony for municipal projects in the southeastern city of Siirt on Monday.
Erdogan wants the AK Party to raise the number of parliament seats it holds to 400 of 550 in June, comfortably giving it the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution and create the full presidential system he has long coveted.
Under Erdogan, Turkey has pursued a peace process with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group to try to end a three-decade Kurdish insurgency in the southeast.
Jailed PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan said last month it was time to end an armed struggle that has killed 40,000 people, but his conditions, including creation of a neutral monitoring group, have not yet been met.
Erdogan had hoped to count on Kurdish support for constitutional change to transform a largely ceremonial presidency into a strong executive position, in return offering greater Kurdish rights. But the HDP, which needs to meet a 10 percent threshold to enter parliament, has made clear it is not interested in any such deal.
Sirri Sureyya Onder, an HDP lawmaker who has visited Ocalan on his island prison several times, said` the government would put the peace process on hold and protests would erupt if his party failed to make the threshold.
“The public will not accept this. There will not be new action from guerrillas in the mountains in my opinion, but the people will protest in the cities,” he told Reuters.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denied any such suggestion, telling an AKP rally in the eastern city of Kars on Tuesday that the government would not abandon the peace process whatever the election outcome.
Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Nick Tattersall