- - Tuesday, August 18, 2015

ISTANBUL, Turkey — Seizing a second chance to restore his longtime dominance of the political scene here, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to call controversial new elections after talks to form a coalition government broke down between his former political party and opposition groups.

Many Turks view the prospective new elections as an attempted power grab by Mr. Erdogan after the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, suffered a surprising setback in a June 7 ballot when it failed to win a majority of parliamentary seats for the first time since assuming power in 2002.

“There is now another debate in the country: whether [Erdogan] has just announced a constitutional coup,” said Soli Ozel, a professor of international relations at Kadir Has University in Istanbul.

But it’s a move fraught with risk, one that could complicate relations with the nation’s restive Kurdish minority and complicate the Obama administration’s plans to enlist Ankara against the Islamic State movement across the border in Syria.

A former prime minister who was elected to the technically nonpartisan and ceremonial office of president last year, Mr. Erdogan was widely believed to be anticipating that a new AKP-dominated parliament would amend Turkey’s constitution to give him more power. He reportedly opposed a coalition government that would have resisted expanding his authority.

Now critics say Mr. Erdogan is whipping up prejudice against the Kurds and beating war drums to gain support in the run-up to a new election that would likely be held in November.


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Turkish jets have been pounding Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, forces in northern Iraq and Islamic State militants in Syria in recent weeks in a campaign coordinated by the United States to crack down on the Islamic State.

The attacks come after increased voter support for the left-wing, pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, or HDP, was a key factor in Mr. Erdogan’s former party failing to gain a majority in the June election. The HDP supports an agreement between Turkish forces and Kurds who have sought to create an independent Kurdistan in the region, including parts of Turkey.

“Tayyip is playing a dirty game, stirring the violence to get the nationalist vote. Many people can see that,” said Nazife Aydin, a 31-year-old Istanbul resident. “I am not hopeful for the future, because there are so many problems he has created.”

Mr. Erdogan has also come under criticism at home and abroad for the attacks on the Kurds. While they are rebelling against Ankara’s rule within Kurdish areas of Turkey, they are also fighting successfully against the Islamic State on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

Turkey as a whole seems eerily unaware of the danger the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria poses,” said Jenny White, a visiting professor at the Institute for Turkish Studies at Stockholm University.

Some say President Obama shares in the blame for the country’s political stalemate. Turkey launched its attacks after giving the U.S. permission to use the Incirlik military air base for raids into Iraq and Syria.

Mr. Ozel argued that Mr. Obama gave Mr. Erdogan tacit permission to attack the Kurds as part of the campaign against the Islamic State as a quid pro quo for using the air base — a widely held suspicion here.

“Obviously the United States wanted to have Incirlik,” said Mr. Ozel. “Based on what we know so far, the United States appears to have gotten everything that it wanted. It does kind of defy logic and credulity that the United States knew nothing about what Turkey was about to do.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, a close ally of the president, threw in the towel on efforts to form an AKP-led coalition government, clearing the way for an interim government that could include numerous political parties until new elections are held.

But Ms. White doubted Mr. Erdogan would accept an interim government where his former political party would not be in complete control — a stance that could lead to more civil strife echoing the riots and other clashes between citizens and police that rocked Istanbul and other Turkish cities two years ago.

• Correspondent John Dyer contributed to this report.

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