A week ahead of Turkey’s second election in five months, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party is working overtime to try to reclaim its parliamentary majority, in a climate of tension fuelled by the Ankara attacks and the reignited Kurdish conflict.
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, leader of the dominant Justice and Development Party (AKP), is holding a mass campaign rally in Istanbul, hoping to drum up enough support to defy the opinion polls that predict a replay of the June vote on November 1.
Police and private security teams are out in force, with Turkey still on edge after the October 10 bombings in the heart of the capital, the worst in the country’s history.
Adding to the jitters, Turkish security forces are hunting four suspected members of the Islamic State group, including a German woman, who have crossed from Syria, media reports say.
The four belong to the same cell behind the Ankara carnage and are feared to be plotting a major attack "such as hijacking a plane or a vessel or detonating suicide bombs in a crowded location," the Anatolia news agency said yesterday.
Although several thousand party faithful turned out in Istanbul on Sunday, waving Turkish and AKP flags, numbers were far lower than at previous rallies.
"We have no alternative (to the AKP), there can be no stability without them," beautician Makbule Cengiz said.
The outcome of the last election stunned the AKP, which after 13 years dominating the political scene won just 40.6 per cent of the vote and lost its absolute control of parliament, partly due to the strong performance of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
The result was also a major personal defeat for Erdogan, seen by critics as increasingly authoritarian as he seeks to expand his role into a powerful US-style executive presidency.
After failing to form a government following the June 7 vote, Davutoglu is pounding the election trail once more — but facing a vastly different landscape, with the country more polarised than ever.
Since late July, fierce fighting has erupted between Turkish security forces and the rebels of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), shattering a fragile peace process launched three years ago.
Fear is also stalking the streets after the double suicide bombing on a pro-Kurdish peace rally in Ankara that killed 102 people and has been blamed on IS.
It followed another deadly bombing in a mainly Kurdish town on the Syrian border in July that thrust Turkey into a "war on terrorism" against both IS extremists and Kurdish rebels.