Turkish-Kurdish Tensions Smolder During Turkey’s General Election

Perceived surveillance and heavy security presence soured the vote for some Kurds

Turkish special police forces outside a polling station on Sunday. — AFP/Getty Images
Nov 01, 2015 at 2:53 PM ET

Kurdish activists, Turks and international observers claimed Turkish security forces intimidated voters on Sunday as Turkey held its second general election this year amid deep divisions. While the claims were not independently confirmed, they underscored an atmosphere of smoldering Turkish-Kurdish tensions during the election.

Across southeast Turkey, which is home to many Kurds, both Turkish citizens and international journalists observed heavily armed police officers outside polling places. The area has seen a string of recent bombings, and clashes between Turkish security forces and militants with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) there have been rife. But Turkish Twitter users on the ground claimed that some of the security measures restricted election observers and Kurdish voters from reaching polling stations.

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Kurdish locals posted a video of what they said showed armed officers walking inside a polling station in the Kurdish town of Cizre, an act which some activists said was illegal.

Several Turkish Twitter users also noted cars parked outside polling sites without license plates. Local journalists noted the same thing happened during Turkey’s last general election June, which at the time raised suspicions of vote rigging among voters. The cars were so widely noticed that they inspired a top-trending hashtag in Turkey on Sunday: #lastikleripatlat, meaning “burst the tires.” It was tweeted over 12,000 times by Sunday evening.

Stakes were high in Sunday’s election, which President Erdogan called for after a political stalemate in June, when no party won a majority. Opponents of the ruling party said the election was a chance for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s authoritarian tactics to be checked. But Erdogan’s party on Sunday, the AKP, won a clear victory, consolidating his power.

The AKP was up against the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) as well as two other parties.