The Erdogan effect

June 15, 2011 12:24 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:43 pm IST

It was fully expected that Turkey's voters would return Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) for a third consecutive term. This success owes to the AKP's achievements in its nearly decade-long rule. With Mr. Erdogan at the helm, the country has undergone a successful economic transformation. At 9 per cent, it boasts the world's second highest growth after China. The 74 million-strong nation has a new confidence, an outcome of its political and economic stability. Turkey's foreign policy now has a mind of its own, giving it a higher profile on the international stage; while the Erdogan government remains committed to integration with Europe, the long wait for admission into the European Union has led Turkey into creating a place for itself in the West Asian region through vigorous engagement with its immediate neighbours. The result of the June 12 parliamentary election indicates national appreciation for many of AKP's policies. But not all of them. While the AKP took nearly 50 per cent of the vote, the result falls far short of the two-thirds it was seeking in order to be empowered to make unilateral amendments to the Constitution. Indeed, the party has won 15 fewer seats in the 550-seat Parliament than in 2007, this time's tally of 326 falling four short of the number required for putting proposed constitutional changes to a vote in a national referendum.

Prime Minister Erdogan must now seek political consensus for the reforms he has in mind. Considering the implications, this is just as well. From the time it first came to power in 2002, the conservative AKP, with a vision rooted in political Islam, made clear it did not embrace the strict secularism bequeathed by Turkey's founder Attaturk Mustapha Kemal. Much of the debate since then has revolved around the headscarf; in the last few years, the cloth, once strictly barred from the public sphere, has made a comeback. Last year, backed by a referendum, the government succeeded in changing the Constitution to make the military — a stern guardian of the Kemalist vision — more accountable to the government. Marginalising the military was a move that won wide backing and praise. But Turkey remains deeply divided on the role of religion in nation-building, as it is about switching to a French-style executive Presidency, which could perpetuate Mr. Erdogan's rule after his last term as Prime Minister. His enthusiasm for constitutional change is bound to be tempered by the results. Rather, with as many as 35 pro-Kurdish representatives in the new parliament, the Erdogan government will need to pay more attention to the longstanding demands of the Kurdish ethnic group.

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