Turkey's Deadliest Attack Has Deepened Split Among Its Leaders

  • Politicians trade barbs as ountry declares 3-day mourning
  • Suspected suicide attack in Ankara killed at least 97 people

Relatives mourn near the coffin of a victim of the twin bombings in Ankara.

Photographer: Yasin Akgul/AFP via Getty Images

The deadliest terror attack in Turkey’s recent history came three weeks before general elections. From the start the mourning was mixed with recriminations, as violence threatened to deepen the political deadlock that has forced the country into its second vote in five months.

Suspected suicide bombers killed at least 97 people at a rally in Ankara for a peaceful solution to Turkey’s struggle with Kurdish rebels, which has escalated as it became entangled with the civil war in neighboring Syria. With that conflict sucking in powers from the Middle East and beyond, it’s also pitting Turkish society against itself, threatening the region’s biggest economy. The lira slid as much as 1.8 percent in early trading on Monday before paring those losses slightly.

Turks will vote on Nov. 1 for the second time this year, repeating an inconclusive June ballot that roiled markets by failing to produce a majority government. The tensions that prevented parties from forging a coalition were again on display in the wake of the Ankara bombings, as leaders traded barbs about who’s to blame.

No Unity

“The country is now entrapped in a slow-motion crisis that is becoming increasingly intractable,” Wolfango Piccoli, managing director of Teneo Intelligence in London, wrote in an e-mailed note. The climate of violence is likely to impact the economy, Turkey’s finance minister Mehmet Simsek said today.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who’s not up for re-election and is supposed to be above the political fray, called for unity after the attack. There was little sign of it among party leaders.

Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, and Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu hold a meeting on Ankara train station bombings at Cankaya Palace in Ankara, Turkey. Photographer: Hakan Goktepe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Turkey's Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, and Republican People's Party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu hold a meeting on Ankara train station bombings at Cankaya Palace in Ankara, Turkey. Photographer: Hakan Goktepe/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Of the three opposition groups in parliament, only two were invited to a summit with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to discuss the emergency on Sunday. One of those leaders refused to go, while the other, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, from the biggest opposition group, held a press conference right after the meeting to pour scorn on the government’s handling of the attack.

Not Invited

Kilicdaroglu demanded the resignation of two ministers, and called out an adviser to the president for tweets he said were disrespectful of the public mood.

Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish party whose surge of support deprived Davutoglu’s Ak Party of its majority in June, wasn’t invited to meet the premier. Erdogan and Davutoglu have repeatedly accused Demirtas’s group of links to the armed Kurdish militants of the PKK, something the human rights lawyer has called a smear tactic.

Authorities listed the PKK, which has killed dozens of Turkish soldiers and policemen in recent months, alongside Islamic State as potential suspects for the Ankara attack, even though many of those killed were Kurdish activists. Turkey carried out airstrikes against the PKK within hours of the blasts, and it has been unwilling to support related Kurdish groups in Syria, even as they won victories against Islamic State.

‘Blaming the Dead’

Demirtas had the harshest words for the government. “A state that knows about it when a bird flies through central Ankara wasn’t able to prevent a massacre,” he said in televised comments. “Partisans of the government have been up all night blaming us and blaming the dead on television. We would have at least hoped we could come together in our grief.”

Davutoglu said he didn’t invite Demirtas because of his “irresponsible” criticisms. Another leader, Devlet Bahceli of the nationalist MHP, was invited but refused to go: his party reportedly told the premier that he should be accustomed to being rejected. While earlier this month the far-right Bahceli, a veteran of the coalition governments that ruled Turkey in the 1990s, had said he was open to partnering with anyone but the pro-Kurdish HDP. On Monday he refused to meet with Kilicdaroglu.

Political Vacuum

All these vituperative exchanges don’t bode well for the prospects of forming a coalition after the November vote, even though at least some of those leaders may have to make a deal, if the country is going to avoid being left in a political vacuum. Most polls suggest the outcome will be similar to the June stalemate, with no one winning a majority.

The extent of Erdogan’s power had been a sticking point for all the parties negotiating with the AKP. While he nominally severed ties with the party he co-founded on his move to the presidency, Erdogan campaigned alongside the AKP prior to the election, asking for an expansion of his presidential powers, yet voters didn’t grant that mandate.

“If no party secures a majority, a patched-up AKP-led coalition government will almost inevitably fail to balance Erdogan and struggle to bring Turkey out of the messy situation,” Piccoli wrote.

For more, read this QuickTake: Turkey’s Continental Divide

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