Monday, July 23, 2007

About That Turkish Election

The Turkish elections are over, and the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) walked away with a landslide, garnering nearly 47% of the vote and securing 340 of the seats in the 550 seat parliament. This is sufficient to allow the AKP to rule without needing to form a coalition government. The election was a setback to the secular establishment and the Turkish military. (Graph courtesy of Today's Zaman)

The probability approaches one that the hostile overtures by the Turkish military on the Iraqi border were posturing and preening in the run-up to the elections. Now the danger lies in Prime Minister Erdoğan feeling emboldened and overstepping, initiating hostilities across the border into Kurdistan and setting off an avoidable crisis.

Erdoğan declined to mention a possible cross-border operation but said necessary steps would be taken in the fight against terrorism, which he said was a long-term task.

He also pledged to step up the fight against “criminal gangs” believed to have links with some state officials and institutions.

The election was held against a backdrop of growing nationalism and calls for the military to cross the Iraqi border and quash the Kurdish terrorists of the PKK that find safe-haven in the Kurdish areas of Iraq. The PKK has engaged in a persistent campaign of terrorism across the Anatolian region of Turkey for years. These terrorist attacks have killed over 35,000 Turks over the past two decades (that is more than ten times the loss of life America sustained on September 11, 2001, just to offer perspective.)

One of the first issues the new government will have to deal with will be whether or not to stage an offensive into Iraq over the objections of the United States and the Iraqi government.

The election doubled as a referendum of Erdoğan’s handling of a stand-off with the Turkish military last spring that had the military threatening to step in and nullify the election if the secular way of life in Turkey were threatened by a president and prime minister from the same party, rooted in political Islam.

"Our democracy successfully passed a significant test in a manner that would constitute a model to the world and proved its maturity. Our democracy emerged stronger. The winner of the elections is democracy, security and stability," Erdoğan told supporters packing a street outside his party headquarters.

“Our nation confirmed that the AK Party represents the social center. This is the first time a party has managed to increase its support while in government in 52 years,” he said.

Erdoğan also assured the secularist electorate who did not vote for his party that their choice is respected. “I understand the message from those who did not vote for us. Rest assured. … There will be no concession on the basic characteristics of the republic,” he said. “Our word to you is that we will embrace all of Turkey with no discrimination.”

The results of yesterday election require a bit more analysis than just “who won and who lost” due to how the Turkish electoral system is established.

To take seats in the Turkish parliament a party must overcome a 10% election threshold. This means that three parties will hold seats – the AKP, the CHP and the MHP

Although it won more votes than it did in the past, the AK Party is set to get fewer seats given the fact that the parliamentary seats will be distributed among three parties now, instead of two as was the case after 2002 elections. The AK Party is still certain to form a single-party government, controlling, however, fewer seats than required to change the Constitution or elect the president on its own

The Turkish elections are over, and the results are in. But what it all means will be played out in the months to come.

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