Political analysts around the world are hailing Sunday’s parliamentary elections as “historic.” The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) scored a huge victory, winning nearly 47 % of the vote.
Yasemin Congar, Washington bureau chief of the Turkish newspaper Millyet, calls AKP’s victory “unprecedented” because the ruling party was reelected after 4-1/2 years in government with a 12-percent increase in their vote. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now’s International Press Club, Ms. Congar says the moderate Islamic party had support not only from its traditional base but also from a coalition of other forces.
Not only did voters view the AKP’s economic reforms positively, she says, but they were also rebuking the powerful Turkish military for its “electronic ultimatum” on April 27 in which the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was issued a clear warning about preserving the secular nature of the Turkish state. The Prime Minister had just nominated Abdullah Gul, his Foreign Minister and a member of the AKP, as Turkey’s next president. It provoked a political crisis because Mr. Gul’s wife wears a headscarf, a potent symbol for many Turks since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a World War I army officer, founded Turkey’s secular republic after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. Mr. Gul’s nomination was subsequently withdrawn and parliamentary elections were called early.
Prime Minister Erdogan’s party captured nearly 47 % of the vote, winning 340 of Parliament’s 550 seats. The Republican People’s Party, the main secular opposition, took only about 21 %, winning 112 parliamentary seats. The results were a “shock to nearly everybody,” says Turkish journalist Baris Ornarli, who was covering the elections from Ankara. Mr. Ornarli says it is “remarkable” in Turkey’s political history for an incumbent party to increase its votes in an election. The right-wing Nationalist Action Party also passed the 10-percent threshold and entered Parliament, he notes. Of the independent candidates, who won 27 seats, 23 are Kurdish. This is significant because for the first time they will have deputies in Parliament. Kurdish analyst Serdar Shengul says many Kurds realized that tactically it might be wiser to support the party in power. Unemployment in the Kurdish region runs about 70 % and the “absolute poverty line” is 40 %. Mr. Shengul adds that, if Kurds want more influence in matters of culture and identity, having a voice in Parliament is a good place to start.
Turkish journalists Baris Ornarli and Yasemin Congar emphasize that, with more parties and more independents in Parliament, the ruling party will find it easier to form political alliances, providing the two-thirds majority needed to choose a president. Ms. Congar says she thinks, as do most analysts, that Prime Minister Erdogan is likely to choose a “consensus candidate” this time who could also appeal to the opposition. That way, he would find it easier to implement his political agenda – democratizing and strengthening Turkey’s bid to join the European Union.
However, Abdullah Gul hinted this week that he has not yet renounced his candidacy for president. Prime Minister Erdogan pledged earlier this week to safeguard modern Turkey’s secularist traditions and to deepen economic reforms. The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said that Turkey’s voters have once again demonstrated “their confidence in democracy and the rule of law.” And the United States looks forward to working with the new government once it is formed.
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