Archive for August, 2007

Election Aftermath

August 8, 2007

Back now in Brazil I can make some comments about the recent elections and the future of Turkey. Parliament has now been sworn in, with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s AK (Justice and Development) Party scoing a clear victory with 46.63% of the votes (as against 34% in the 2002 elections), giving it 342 seats in parliament. This is a big majority but not the two thirds majority it needs to change the constitution and introduce direct presidential elections. It was the leading party in every single area of the country except some areas of Thrace, the West around Izmir and Kurdish areas in the east. It managed to attract voters outside its normal constituency of the urban poor and received votes from business, based on its competent administration of the economy, and even liberals, who saw it as a more modern party open to Europe. Indeed, this support from secular sectors of society may even have helped to secularize the Islamic-based AK Party.

The big loser was the CHP, the People’s Republican Party, the party which Atatürk founded way back in 1923. Its share of the vote went down to 20.94% and will send 111 deputies to Ankara. It has always been the solidly nationalist party, the party of the state employees, the teachers, the civil servants, and especially the highly secular army. Indeed, it has often been perceived as being the mouthpiece of the army. It has shown little enthusiasm for joining the European Union, following the official army line that, by joining the EU, Turkey would lose much of its independence. It tried to scare voters away from voting for the AK Party, with an “Islamists under the bed campaign”, which backfired. Indeed, its policies seemd to reflect those of the army, which, on 27 April this year, issued a warning on its website about “the growing threat” to Turkey’s secular republic, i.e., don’t vote for the AK Party or else… 

Voting for the AK Party would mean the creepíng Islamisation of society: restriction on alcohol sales, the possibility of wearing headscarves in public institutions, and eventually, the obligatory use of head-covering for women as sharia law would be introduced. But few heeded the warnings.

Congress will now vote for the President, and if the AK Party candidate, the Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gül, whose wife wears a headscarf, is again rejected by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, the government will call a referendum as the President cannot reject a bill twice. In April the proposal of the AK Party to introduce direct elections for President was vetoed by the President.

Despite the high percentage of votes for the AK Party, its share of parliamentary seats actually went down as a third party reached the ten percent threshold necessary to gain parliamentary representation, which did not happen in the last elections in 2002. This third party is the right-wing nationalist secular  MHP, the People’s National Movement, which obtained 14.17% of the votes, with 70 deputies. It increased its vote with its hardline demands for the army to make incursions into Iraq to attack PKK strongholds after the recent renewed insurgency from the outlawed Kurdish People’s Party. Like the CHP it is anti-Europe.

A large number of votes, 5.2% of the total, went to the independent candidates, especially in the Kurdish regions, and most of these 27 deputies will now form a kind of semi-official Kurdish party. This possibility of independent candidates being elected was possibly introduced as a palliative for the Kurds, a way around the minimum 10% necessary for a party to have parliamentary representation.

So a vote for the economic stability the AK Party has overseen. A vote for joining Europe. A vote against the fears that the AK Party wants to Islamize Turkish society. A slap in the face of the army and a vote against the big state. Two reforms that may soon be made are the reform to Article 301 of the Penal Code, which which designates as a crime the denigration of Turkishness and has led to the attempted prosecution of high profile figure such as Orhan Pamuk, and that of allowing women to wear headscarves in government offices, schools and universities, which is at present not allowed. After all, if the wife of the President wears a headscarf…

Return to a chilly Brazil from the midsummer heat of a three-week tour around central and southern Turkey with memories of the vans from the various political parties playing their marshal music in every single town and city; the cherry harvest south of Iznik, in Çay, where every single hand available was being used; the sun-loving Russian, German and Scandinavian tourists in Alanya and Side, apparently oblivious to the elections; Lake Beyşehir, near conservative Konya, where no woman dared to bathe; a first ever summer lunch in the Boğazici Universitesi restaurant watching the ships go by down in the Bosphorous Straits; the Roman ruins of Side and the amphitheatre of Aspendos; and once again the teeming nightlife of Beyoğlu; and Turkey maybe at a turning point…