Turkish Election Wrap – South Australia’s Perspective

By Liam Mannix from The South Australia Globalist

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been re-elected by his country for another term, with his conservative party handed a strong majority in parliament.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's Prime Minister

The AKP, or Justice and Development Party, first one its parliamentary majority in 2002, The Age reports, and Sunday’s win, with 50 per cent of the popular vote, will give them their third successive term in office. However, the AKP did not get the two-thirds majority it was seeking, which would allow it to unilaterally alter the country’s constitution. It looks like Erdogan’s party will be forced to negotiate on new legislation.

The AKP are the more liberal and religious of Turkey’s major parties. The major opposition party, the CHP, are closely aligned with the powerful Turkish military establishment, strongly secular, and appeal to the strong nationalist views of many Turks. For a fascinating read on the CHP’s history, and its place in Turkish society today, Ali Bulac at Today’s Zaman is well worth a read.

Erdogan has pushed through many constitutional and legal amendments and adjustments to Turkey’s institutions. Many of these have been called for by the European Union, which has set down a strict series of requirements should Turkey wish to gain entry. Turkey is currently a ‘candidate state’ for entry into the EU, and negotiations are ongoing about full membership. Turkey’s current constitution was set down after a military coup in September 1980, and critics alledge that it is in desperate need of modernization, as they say it lacks proper protections for freedom of speech, and gives too much power to the country’s military. Some in the AKP, such as Bulent Arinc, say the country’s constitution is so flawed it needs to be rewritten altogether, and it is expected this issue will be heavily debated by the new parliament.

However, opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu, from the Republican People’s Party, says many of Erdogan’s legislative adjustments have served to restrict individual freedoms at the expense of state power, and have moved Turkey further toward autocracy. Freedom House calls Turkey ‘partially free’, in part because the government has been active suppressing negative journalism; according to The Economist, there are now more journalists imprisoned in Turkey than in China.

And Erdogan has been criticised in an Op Ed from The Economist, which has claimed his successes have meant he has accumulated too much power, and now there are few checks or balances upon him.

Writing in The Guardian, Bulent Arinc, deputy leader of the AKP, says his party has “has struck a balance between democratisation, economic progress and an active foreign policy”, which has not been easy considering Turkey’s history of autocracy. Reuters says Erdogan has “transformed Turkey into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies”. The World Bank has forecast Turkey to grow by 6.1 per cent this year, although inflation is pushing 7 per cent (which in a country that often runs at 12 per cent inflation is considered reasonable economic management).

The Financial Times says under the AKP “economy has done exceptionally well. Turkey has reformed itself enough to secure the opening of membership negotiations with the European Union. It has pursued a more vigorous foreign policy in its neighbourhood. And a politically intrusive army has been firmly returned to its barracks.”

Politicians representing the 14-million-strong Kurdish ethnic minority appear to have won as many as 36 seats in the new parliament, The Financial Times reports. Turkey is presently engaged in a conflict with Kurdish separatists in the South East of the country. The entry of the pro-Kurdish BDP into parliament represents a new direction for the Kurdish movement, which has been engaged in a violent struggle with the Turkish military for much of the last 25 years, during which some 45,000 people are thought to have been killed.

The AKP’s move to attempt to reintegrate Kurds into society though a spate of constitutional, cultural and language changes are in direct opposition to the CHP’s more aggressive nationalist policy, which has seen the conflict draw on until now. This year’s election was the first time a politician was allowed to campaign using the Kurdish language, reports Time. Their win is important because it means the AKP will not have sole control of the process of rewriting the constitution, and the BDP is certain to push for an inclusive constitutional process.

World Reaction:

Israeli leader Benjamin Netenyahu has lauded Turkey’s free and fair elections, saying such a thing “should not be taken for granted”. He told the Jerusalem Post that his nation was open to improving diplomatic ties with the nation, which have cooled recently.Two years ago, Turkey was Israel’s strongest regional ally, but relations have deteriorated to the point where Turkey now openly supports Hamas and Syria, Israel’s Arutz Sheva reports. In May last year, Turkish activists attempted to break Israel’s blockade of Palestine by ship, until they were boarded by Israeli security forces, resulting in the death of nine activists. Reuters reports there is another Turkish blockade-breaking fleet planned for late June.

Worth a Read:

Notes from Istanbul, a political blog from Turkish based writer Aengus Collins, is well worth a read.

PakistanVoices pulls together blogs and tweets about the election from the Turkish people.

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