|A rally in Istanbul for the ruling AKP attracted hundreds of thousands on Sunday [Reuters]
Hundreds of thousands of people have attended rallies in Istanbul for Turkey’s two main political parties as the country enters the final week of campaigning before next Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
Incumbent prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), addressed a vast crowd in Kazlicesme Square on Sunday in a show of strength by the ruling party which opinion polls suggest is on course for a third straight ballot box victory.
A day earlier, the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, held its biggest rally in Turkey’s main city in more than 20 years in the same square, as it seeks to build on the 21 per cent vote share it won at the last election in 2007.
Opposition parties are seeking to limit the size of the AKP’s majority in an effort to block Erdogan’s plans to rewrite Turkey’s constitution.
While the AKP has pledged to introduce greater individual freedoms and more democracy, critics fear the Islamist-influenced party would use the mandate of an overwhelming majority to consolidate its grip on power.
CHP supporter Burcu Firat told the Hurriyet newspaper that he hoped the result of Sunday’s vote would "break the arrogance" of the AKP.
"I expect the CHP to get enough votes to put pressure on the ruling party," Firat said.
Addressing supporters on Sunday, Erdogan urged voters to send more than 367 AKP deputies to parliament – a two-thirds majority that would allow the party to reshape the constitution without taking its plans to a referendum.
"Our biggest project is to make a libertarian constitution. We need 367 deputies to achieve this goal," Erdogan said.
Erdogan’s hopes of a majority on that scale could depend on the fortunes of Turkey’s third party, the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
The party has been badly damaged by a sex tapes scandal, which has forced the resignation of several senior figures, raising doubts about its ability to achieve the 10 per cent share of the national vote necessary to enter parliament. That scenario would benefit the AKP, which would pick up additional seats.
The major parties have traversed the country over the past month in an effort to drum up support, even venturing to areas traditionally beyond their electoral reach, ahead of Sunday’s vote.
Erdogan on Saturday staged a major rally in Izmir, a secularist stronghold in the west of the country, while Kilicdaroglu, who has attempted to broaden support for his party beyond the traditional Kemalist establishment, visited southeast Turkey earlier in his campaign, traditionally a no-go area for the CHP.
On Monday, the MHP takes its campaign to Diyarbakir, the main city in the Kurdish-majority southeast; the first time the nationalists have visited the main city in the Kurdish-majority southeast in 16 years.