Elections in Turkey

Before the elections, which were believed to be local elections with national implications, Prime Minister Erdogan claimed anything under 47% for his AK party would be considered a failure. How then should carrying only 39% percent of the vote, the lowest performance since his party gained power in 2002 be interpreted?

Despite the considerable decline in support, a significant minority in Turkey stand behind the AKP’s performance. Economic issues stand at the heart of Turkish politics. The years of tremendous economic growth no longer characterize Erdogan’s rule with unemployment standing at an uncomfortable 13.6%. Moreover, the elections complete the push for an IMF loan worth as much as $25 billion, aiding Turkish companies to pay off foreign loans and compete in the face of the global recession.

For the first time since his party assumed power, Erdogan will no longer be able to dominate the political landscape. The nearest competitor, the secularist CHP, who accuses the AKP of having a hidden Islamist agenda, increased their winnings to 23%. The election results should make¬† Erdogan’s agenda to reform the constitution drafted in 1982 by the military and change the way the Constitutional Court works more difficult to complete.¬† These were largely seen as steps to help improve Turkey’s chances of becoming the first Muslim member of the European Union and are not completely out of reach.

In analyzing the results, the effect of Kurdish voters could not be ignored. The pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party won in a landslide victory over the AK party in Diyarbakir, 67% to 31% respectively. Incorporating Kurdish voters has been a top priority of Erdogan. Emphasizing equality among Turks and Kurds (also a key point the EU dwells on) Erdogan has initiated a state sponsored Kurdish language channel even offered washing machines for free. Regardless, the DTP’s campaign centered around improving services in the area rather than stressing the Kurdish identity.

Although the extent Erdogan will have to compromise is unknown, he will certainly be forced to be less confrontational. Several ministry changes will be made in response to the results and the opposition is unlikely yield their attacks, hoping to further dislodge support for the AK party. The future success of the AK party is completely dependent on Erdogan’s ability to lead them away from the status quo and into some resemblance of economic growth.

Local elections are very important to Turkish politics and the dramatic decline in support for the AK party could lead a push for early elections but that scenario remains highly unlikely. Severe economic declined requiring IMF loans and record breaking unemployment rates usually do not lead to victories for the ruling parties and I cannot imagine Erdogan conceding to elections before they are required in 2011.

Sorting through all the speculation surrounding the elections and the rule of the AK party, which includes an investigation into a plot to overthrow Erdogan, a clear warning has been sent. Constituting the most homogeneous ruling party in Turkey since perhaps the rule of Ataturk, the AK party is in serious jeopardy of losing control of the government. However, if Erdogan follows his own advise to “take lessons both from achievements and from failures”, the survival of the AK party will not be at stake.

Imran Malik
Program Assistant
Minaret of Freedom Institute

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