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Is Erdogan stirring election tensions?

Chief foreign correspondent Margaret Warner joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the high tensions ahead of the Turkish election, including a deadly attack on a Kurdish political rally.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And Margaret joins me now.

    So, Margaret, these attacks at the Kurdish rally today, what does it say about any connection to these elections coming up?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    I think it shows, Judy, is how high tensions are running right now, not only over the election, but within Turkish society and politics.

    And so this is an election at which you don't have at stake the classic issues of war and peace or the economy. It's really about Erdogan's wanting to fulfill this lifelong dream of becoming another Kemal Ataturk, the all-powerful Turkish president who founded modern Turkey almost 100 years ago.

    And the new quirk is that is what is standing in his way is this pro-Turkish — pro-Kurdish party. And so, though it's not clear even that today's attack was deliberate, though it looks suspiciously so, or who was behind it, there are plenty of players with motives, everyone from operatives from Erdogan's party who want to sort of to Turks, don't want for a pro-Kurdish party, because they're going to respond with violence, or in fact Kurdish militants, who don't want a pro-Kurdish party in parliament.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, a lot of tension everywhere you look.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Yes.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    What role is Erdogan himself playing in stirring all this up?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Oh, a huge role, Judy. It's not only in stirring it up, but that he's become the focus of it.

    Now, you remember, when he was elected in 2002, he came from a party with Islamist roots. And so, first of all, the secular Turks were very worried that he was going to completely Islamicize Turkish society. And he did move to change education and the system and so forth.

    But the business community found he was incredibly helpful to them. He jump-started the Turkish economy. They had growth rates of 9, 10 percent last time I was there. So, everybody kind of came to live with him.

    But then, the last three or four years — and he won a lot of elections by very big margins — the last three or four years, his autocratic tendencies are really coming to fore. He silences dissent, whether it's protesters in Gezi Park, whether it's journalists, whether it's opposition figures. He even fires prosecutors investigating his own government.

    And so what you have now is, of course he still has a huge base of rural, conservative, Islamic support. And nobody thinks he won't win most votes or his party won't win most. But enough voters are telling pollsters that they are worried that, if he gets the kind of huge margin he wants to ram through this constitutional change, then he will become very much like Russia's Vladimir Putin, in other words, an elected, but authoritarian ruler.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, finally, I know you have been talking to people in Washington. What are they saying, officials here saying about how this — how the U.S. sees all this?

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Well, three things, Judy.

    First of all, they are very concerned by a lot of the rhetoric and polarizing rhetoric of this campaign, including from Erdogan himself, a lot of anti-U.S., anti-Israel, there's an international conspiracy against me. OK.

    Two, however, they don't think it is going to really affect the cooperation or a lack of cooperation on the all-important issue of how to approach Syria and Iraq. Those differences are more deep-seated than that.

    What does worry some U.S. officials is the prospect of a destabilized Turkey in any way. In other words, there are scenarios — for instance, if the pro-Kurdish party wins by just a razor-thin margin, and there is suspicions of fraud, that could bring out protests and so on.

    And the U.S. still needs Turkey as a strong, stable ally on issues, everything from a missile shield to negotiations with Iran. So they don't need a distracted Turkish government.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And I know you are going to be watching the elections on Sunday. We're going to have you back Monday to talk about what it all — what came out of it.

    Margaret Warner, we thank you.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    As always.

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