Turkish election analysis – implications for the west

By Linda Michaud-Emin and Heymi Bahar, GLORIA

Having won Turkey ’s July 22 parliamentary elections, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) is set once again to form a single-party government. This triumph is especially impressive as it is the first time in a half-century that a government party wins reelection. Ironically, this means that while the July 22 elections have taken place amidst so much controversy they are in fact producing the most stable government in many years.

In recent years, the Turkish government has been plagued by an on-going battle between Deniz Baykal’s opposition socialist Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the AKP on the issue of secularism. When it was time for parliament to choose a president on April 27, 2007, the AKP selected its number-two leader, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, for the post. In turn, the CHP boycotted the balloting, thus blocking it. As a result, parliamentary elections were moved up to an earlier date. With street demonstrations protesting AKP’s Islam-oriented program, it seemed as if the opposition might seriously challenge the government. Instead, the government did very well.

Still, the probable continuation of an AKP single-party government does not mean there will be no change. The emergence in third place of Turkey’s far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), as well as an increase in independent members could bring some important changes.
First, the MHP as a second opposition party—after the CHP–with an intensely nationalist ideology could harass the AKP considerably, as well as polarizing the system to a far greater extent. The MHP is particularly hostile to demands for more rights by the Kurdish minority. At the same time, though, Kurds may be more significant because the Kurdish forces ran as independents—their main party has been banned—and could sometimes hold the balance of power.

Nevertheless, in September or October the AKP will now probably propose and elect a presidential candidate from its own party which is what led to this whole mess in the first place. It may, however, seek someone less controversial than Gul and try to reach a consensus with the CHP.

The presidency in Turkey up to now has always been a bulwark of the secular system. The president appoints the prime minister, the military’s chief of staff, university rectors, diplomats, and members of the country’s highest court. An AKP presidency coupled with an AKP government can dramatically change the nature of both Turkish politics and society.

Secularists fear that with AKP controlling executive, legislative, and—by appointing judges–judicial branches of government it would be a point of no return for the country. In 2004, for example, the AKP passed a law lowering the compulsory retirement age as a way of forcing out thousands of civil servants. Many of them were replaced by graduates of the imam hatips, Islamic schools, who might have been less qualified but who were very loyal to the AKP and its policies.

A confident, more assertive AKP has serious ramifications for Turkish foreign policy in terms of its positions on U.S. interests, the West in general, radical Islamist forces, and Israel. Examples include the recent natural gas agreement between Turkey and Iran as well as Turkey ’s differences with the United States over Iraq .

While it is possible to exaggerate marginal phenomena or short-term public opinion trends, anti-American and anti-Jewish feelings have been rising in the country since 2002, the year the AKP came to office. The question is to what extent changes in the society are boosting the AKP and a more Islamic approach to issues or whether it is the AKP government that is altering these attitudes.

Linda Michaud-Emin is a research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center http://gloria.idc.ac.il, at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC). Heymi Bahar is a research associate at the GLORIA Center .

July 22, 2007 | Comments Off on Turkish election analysis – implications for the west

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