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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 21 July 2018

Suruc: the small border town with a big electoral impact

The Kurdish majority area has seen high tensions as the AKP and HDP battle for dominance

Turkish president and ruling Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Sanliurfa on June 20, 2018, four days before the country held presidential and parliamentary elections. Presidential Press Service via AP
Turkish president and ruling Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a campaign rally in Sanliurfa on June 20, 2018, four days before the country held presidential and parliamentary elections. Presidential Press Service via AP

A small, rural district known for growing pomegranates may not seem like a key electoral battleground for Turkish politics, but the majority-Kurdish Suruc was never far from coverage during Sunday’s double election.

In the town and nearby villages, there were reported attempts to stuff ballots, attacks on independent observers, voters casting ballots on behalf of relatives and women, open voting, intimidation and fighting at polling stations in the province.

A car carrying four sacks of ballot papers was stopped by the police in the town, and later four people were arrested over alleged vote rigging.

It's not the first time the town has been the sight of accusations of vote-rigging. In last year’s referendum on the country’s transition to a presidential system, it was reported that in Suruc there were more votes counted than residents who were able to vote.

About half of Turkey’s estimated 16 million Kurds were thought to support President Recep Tayyip Erdogan prior to the election, hoping he would one day deliver peace to the impoverished region. The other half were thought to be behind the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).

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Suruc, part of Sanliurfa province in the south-east of the country, has a large Kurdish population and has generally voted for Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), but the HDP made inroads there in recent elections

The HDP voters in the town are amid a sea of support for the ruling AKP in the neighbouring area, meaning tensions run high. Prior to Sunday’s elections, four people were killed and 12 wounded in the town when a fight broke out between a group that included an AKP parliamentarian who was standing for office and local shopkeepers.

The southeast has been heavily affected by the decadeslong war between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the state of emergency declared after an attempted coup in Turkey in 2016. Suruc suffered a bloody ISIS attack in 2015 that killed over 30 and wounded over 100 more.

The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) blamed the government for not protecting the Kurdish people and it led to the end the breakdown of a two-and-a-half-year ceasefire, and the south-east suffered many deaths as a result.

In what may have been one of the most unfair elections in the country's history with the discourse on Kurds striking a worrying return to the past, the election will be tight run. And if the past says anything about what will happen in the event that Mr Erdogan does not secure his seat tonight, then Suruc and the Kurd’s of south eastern Turkey will likely bear the brunt of any instability.