Critics of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan suspect that his true motive behind the recent military action against Syria was to gain votes during the upcoming local elections.
Erdogan insists that the incident occurred because the Syrian fighter jet had invaded Turkish air space. "We will always react very promptly whenever our air space has been violated," Erdogan said to thousands of AKP supporters during an election campaign event in Kocaeli, explicitly praising the Turkish pilots who had brought down the jet.
As the Turkish daily "Hürriyet" reports, Syria has accused Erdogan of having committed "an obvious act of aggression," while rejecting claims that Turkey's air space had been invaded. Turkey's opposition has also raised doubts concerning Erdogan's explanations, claiming that his true motive had been to divert attention away from the domestic political crisis only days before local elections this Sunday.
Setbacks in Turkey
Since December, the Turkish government has been embroiled in a serious corruption scandal. Again and again, compromising telephone recordings have been published on the Internet, exposing Erdogan and his Islamist-conservative party AKP in public. Erdogan in turn has responded to this perceived threat by creating further laws to crack down on Internet freedom. Most recently, he tried to silence the opposition by blocking the Twitter website in Turkey.
Mustafa Sarigül, who is running for the post of Istanbul's mayor as the candidate of the country's biggest opposition party CHP, says Erdogan has been driven into a corner. "Our prime minister tries to create a lot of chaos, and he loves to provoke. He has understood that he will be the loser. Our current government does not want peace, but tries to gain politically by the war atmosphere. Our citizens will not join this game. We will create a Turkey which lives at peace with its neighbors," he said during a campaign event in the Istanbul district of Yesilkent.
CHP leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu has joined the chorus of critics concerning the recent military incident. "The way in which our prime minister has tried to exploit this incident for his own purposes during the election campaign, is obnoxious. That is not the appropriate political style," Kilicdarogu said.
Political scientist Fethi Acikel shares this critical view. A prime minister should discuss military interventions in parliament, or in a discreet fashion within government circles - but certainly not during an election campaign surrounded by thousands of supporters, Acikel told DW. "Only days ahead of the elections, the political atmosphere in Turkey is very tense. The situation is highly unusual. The public is sharply divided by Erdogan's political discourse." Acikel said that public speculation about the way in which Erdogan is trying to exploit the Syria crisis has been rife for weeks.
"By resuscitating nationalistic and patriotic feelings, as well as by presenting his AKP party as a defender of the nation's interests, Erdogan may well gain votes not only from the nationalist corner, but also from voters who have so far been undecided," said Acikel. "Syria's opposition has always looked to Turkey for protection. In this way, Turkey has played an active role in Syrian politics," he added.
Local elections as a savior
"Erdogan is trying to turn the local elections into a referendum which would prove his innocence. He's deliberately confronting certain segments of the society in order to win over other segments - such as the nationalists, the Islamist conservatives and those who are as yet undecided," Acikel said.
Erdogan's standing, said Acikel, had however suffered as a result of the corruption scandal although it was hard to say whether this would translate into a heavy loss at the polls. Acikel does not exclude the possibility of fraud during the upcoming elections: "Already in the past, there have been rumors according to which the results of local and parliamentary elections had been falsified. This time, various opposition groups have expressed even more concern about such possibilities because after all, these elections could turn out to be decisive for the very survival of the AKP."