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Turkey's boring elections

July 25, 2007
The Jerusalem Post

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After the tremendous build up to the Turkish elections on Sunday, the results were quite boring. For the first time in modern Turkish history analysts correctly predicted the eventual parliamentary outcome and the results were announced by the media just hours after the polls had closed. While the official count will not be certified until Friday, it is important to take a closer look at the results and see what the votes mean for Turkey.

Unlike its surprising election victory in 2002, the ruling Justice and Development Party, known by its common Turkish acronym AKP, surprised no one by sweeping the elections with close to 47% of the popular vote and 341 out of the 550 seats in the Turkish Grand National Parliament (TGNP).

Given the peculiar circumstances of the 2002 election, in which the AKP only won a third of the popular vote but received close to two-thirds of the seats in parliament, the 2007 election results actually represents a loss of 22 seats for the AKP. The significance of this is that the AKP must now work together with other parties or independents to reach the 367-seat threshold that is necessary to elect the next Turkish president and make any future constitutional changes.

By any standards, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has led one of the most stable and successful governments in Turkish Republican history, and he was rewarded for it on Sunday. The AKP in its five years brought Turkey closer to its European Union accession process and has enacted more serious reforms than any previous administration. The increase in the Turkish stock market and rise in the Turkish lira against the dollar is an early indicator of investors’ approval of the AKP’s economic policies and reforms.

Having put his political future on the line by promising to quit politics should the AKP not win a clear mandate to form the next government alone, Erdogan has emerged the biggest winner. Having drawn the original battle lines back in April over the AKP selection of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for president, the Turkish military must now respect the will of the Turkish voters who unambiguously have rejected their secularist fear-mongering about the hidden Islamist agenda of the AKP.

The results have erased any questions about Erdogan’s previous legitimacy and stand as a powerful mandate for the AKP, which won with the largest margin of victory of any Turkish party in the past 50 years. Having badly misjudged the public mood, the Turkish military needs to focus on tending its barracks rather than the Cankaya Presidential Palace.

Meanwhile, despite increased spending and campaigning, the current opposition, the Republic People’s Party (CHP), obtained a similarly disappointing result compared to its 2002 showing at 20% of the vote, which equals 111 seats in the TGNP. However the significance in this number is that while it gained 1% in the popular vote in 2007, it lost 67 seats. This is a clear rebuke of CHP leader Deniz Baykal’s leadership and the party’s poor performance as the only opposition party in the previous government.

Baykal has been missing in action since riots broke out in front of the CHP headquarters in Istanbul calling for his resignation. Former powerhouse Mehmet Agar, leader of the Democracy Party, formerly True Path Party, has already resigned after his party’s poor showing. Baykal should follow suit to usher in a new generation of Turkish political leadership.

The two small surprises from Sunday’s election were provided courtesy of the strong showing by the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which took 14.5% of the vote, equaling 70 seats in the TGNP; and the independent candidates, who took close to 5% of the vote, resulting in 28 seats in parliament. Having hardly campaigned and only promising harsh fascist-sounding rhetoric, the MHP’s presence in the parliament is a clear indicator of the rising importance of solving Turkey’s terrorist problem and the swelling tide of nationalist sentiment throughout the country.

On the other end of the political spectrum, Kurdish parliamentarians, who predominantly represent Turkey’s southeastern region, found a loophole around the 10% threshold by running as independent candidates. These parliamentarians will be able to openly represent the voices of Turkey’s Kurds for the first time in the TGNP, thereby offering a political forum for finding a solution to one of Turkey’s most challenging domestic problems.

A new day has arrived for Turkish politics with the most representative parliament in living memory. Erdogan with the new AKP, which has already shed much of its older Islamist baggage in its 2007 party list, must lead Turkey by setting a positive example in seeking to unify a polarized nation and its new parliament. The first task will be to find a suitable candidate for Turkish president, one who can generate the necessary two-thirds support in parliament. This will involve winning over, at the very least, the independents’ votes and, ideally, some of the opposition party’s.

Turkish democracy has matured, as demonstrated on Sunday by the 42 million voters who peacefully cast their ballot for Turkey to continue moving forward. Despite recent polls that showed an increase in anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and anti-EU rhetoric, which opposition parties tried to use against the ruling party, the Turkish nation chose the AKP to continue its reforms and foreign policy initiatives.

Turkey has been paralyzed for the last three months in anticipation of these elections. Now the AKP has a clear mandate, along with a new representative parliament to work toward solidifying the gains of the past five years.

Sunday’s results may have been boring, but they were clear, signaling a healthy democracy that solves its problems through the ballot box rather than by violence.

This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.