August 26, 2015 / 11:56 AM / 2 years ago

Turkish PM, facing uphill election battle, invites opposition to cabinet

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, August 25, 2015. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

ANKARA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu invited high profile opposition figures to join an interim cabinet on Wednesday, two months before a snap election at which his ruling AK Party may not recover its parliamentary majority.

The main opposition CHP and nationalist MHP had said they would not join the temporary government, but by reaching out to respected figures among their ranks, Davutoglu appeared to be trying to show he was serious about sharing power.

Sources in his office said he had asked five members of the main opposition CHP and three each from the nationalist MHP and pro-Kurdish HDP on Wednesday to join the government, which will lead Turkey to a new election on Nov. 1. One MHP lawmaker, Tugrul Turkes, accepted Davutoglu’s invitation, a source at the prime minister’s office told Reuters.

The opposition nominees - invited, in line with the constitution, according to the proportion of seats their parties hold in parliament - have until 6:00 pm (1500 GMT) on Thursday to give their answer, the sources said.

The HDP has said it is willing to join although its presence would anger nationalists in the AKP and possibly cost it votes.

Any seats not taken up by opposition parties will be given to independent candidates from outside parliament, although critics say these are likely to be ruling party loyalists.

“The new cabinet will be ready by Saturday,” one of the sources in the prime minister’s office said, adding that nominees from the AKP would be invited once the opposition candidates had given their response.

Davutoglu was appointed by President Tayyip Erdogan to form the interim cabinet on Tuesday after two months of coalition talks failed to produce a working government. The ruling AK Party, founded by Erdogan, lost its majority in a June 7 election for the first time since coming to power in 2002.

Among the best-known names in the list of opposition candidates for the 26-member cabinet was Deniz Baykal, parliament’s oldest deputy, who headed the CHP until 2010 and was deputy prime minister and foreign minister in the 1990s.

Nominees from the nationalist MHP included Turkes, son of the party’s founder, and Meral Aksener, a former interior minister who fell out with party leader Devlet Bahceli and lost her role as deputy speaker to another MP in the party.

SIMILAR RESULTS AGAIN

The AKP looks unlikely to regain its majority in the November election, according to the latest survey by respected pollster Metropoll, released on Wednesday.

Backing for the ruling party has risen to 41.7 percent, up from the 40.9 percent it received in the June election, but not far enough for it to be able to form a government alone, the survey showed.

Support for the CHP was at 25.5 percent, the MHP at 15.7 percent and the HDP, which crossed a 10 percent threshold to enter parliament for the first time two months ago, at 14.7 percent, up from the 13.1 percent it received in June.

“It seems like the snap elections will not generate a different political situation from the election on June 7,” Ozer Sencar, the chairman of Metropoll, wrote in the survey report.

Some political commentators say the AKP is most likely to try again to form a grand coalition with the CHP should it fail to secure a majority in November, noting that Davutoglu’s tone toward opposition leaders has largely been respectful since the coalition talks collapsed.

The uncertainty has knocked economic confidence in Turkey, unnerving investors already concerned about rising violence in the mainly Kurdish southeast and the threat of blowback after the NATO member last month opened its bases for U.S. coalition air strikes on Islamic State militants in Syria.

The lira currency has hit a series of record lows, while consumer confidence in the $870 billion economy has slumped to its weakest in six years.

The participation in the interim cabinet of the HDP would be highly contentious, particularly as Turkish jets are bombing Kurdish militants. The sight of Kurdish opposition politicians in cabinet could cost the AKP crucial votes in November.

Erdogan has accused HDP co-chairman Selahattin Demirtas and his party of links to the PKK - considered a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and Washington - and has suggested that the immunity from prosecution of its lawmakers be lifted.

“Did this political party which has the (PKK) terror organization behind it burn our schools? It burned them. Did it burn our mosques? It burned them. Did it burn our charities? It burned them,” he said in a speech on Wednesday.

“Is it continuing to burn? It is continuing.”

Demirtas has repeatedly called for an end to the violence on both sides in the mostly-Kurdish southeast and has said that the fact his party won six million votes in the June election gives it the right to have three seats in the interim cabinet.

Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Daren Butler and Philippa Fletcher

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