Between East and West: Turkey Elections
Image: Murat Taner/ Corbis
n interesting exercise in the wired era is to type two words into Google search: ‘Turkish’ and ‘model’. As one quickly sees, the world’s commentariat has found common cause in proposing Turkey as the elixir for strife in just about every place between East Europe’s Carpathian Mountains and the Hindu Kush.
If only places like Bosnia, Egypt and Afghanistan could just be more like Turkey, the arguments go; implicitly the lament is that, if only they could have rulers like Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, known by its Turkish acronym AKP.
Often considered one and the same in the international mind, the powerful AKP and its charismatic leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, were set to become even more so after the election here which brought the party back to its biggest victory yet. When the final tally was in, the AKP had 50 percent of the votes, up three points from four years ago. The early calculation was that this would give the party 326 seats in the 550 seat Parliament. The calculus over the immediate issue, the rewrite of a 1982, junta-drafted (military-led) Constitution, suggests the party is just shy of the ability to do that on its own. So while some bridge rebuilding with the opposition may be on the cards, there was little evidence of a mood for that in the first comments. Erdoğan declared himself the winner of the people’s mandate, the “first party in Turkish history to increase its mandate in three consecutive elections”.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, got a 26 percent share while 13 percent of the votes went to the Nationalist Movement Party. Those two, along with the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which received just under 7 percent, will now form a fractious opposition.
To date, the ubiquitous ‘model’ narrative has served as the prima facie evidence that Muslims can be democrats. Exhibit A is Erdoğan’s Islamic-rooted AKP which burst onto the national scene in 2002 to form Turkey’s first one-party government in a generation. Since then, Erdoğan has moved to take credit for many things — even the ‘Arab Spring’. Many a Europarliamentarian and Washington desk officer has been keen to support that thesis as his poster became a fixture in marches from Tunisia to Gaza to Cairo’s Tahrir Square. That’s one model.
In other examinations of Turkey, perhaps a throwback to a time when democracies did not come with qualifying adjectives, the ‘model’ is the sum of its secular parts, the feat of feet in so many camps: A half century in NATO, expanding ties throughout the Middle East and Central Asia and a bid for membership in the European Union. Again the AKP tops this balancing act.
When the model is the economy, few can fault the same party’s performance over the past decade that has trebled the GDP, created a new class of industrialists and entrepreneurs at home while turning heads abroad over an explosion in foreign direct investment. FDI peaked in 2007 at $23 billion, more than all inbound investment to the country up to 2000.
The more than 100 Indian ventures include a $4.9 billion deal between the Indian Oil Corporation and Çalik Energy. A decade ago, few knew of Çalik, now one of Turkey’s largest conglomerates. Few see it as coincidence that the CEO, Berat Albayrak, is Erdoğan’s son-in-law. This would be the model as a closed club.
But the much-discussed ‘Turkish model’ will now be undergoing an overhaul. The three opposition parties have deep divisions among themselves. But all tend toward a secular world view that has reinforced the AKP’s religiosity as a major faultline in Turkish politics. That dynamic of polarisation is easy enough to predict, say analysts. In this round of AKP rule, the hardcore secularists will warn about school textbooks and the slow disappearance of alcohol from the public sphere. The alienated liberals will lament the lack of progress on human rights, including those of women. And the Kurds will hold out for what the AKP promised but has not delivered. Erdoğan will then do as he pleases, in all likelihood with greater ease. He has made it clear that his top priority is a new constitution with a French- or Russian-style presidential system. He has also made it clear that he intends to take that all-powerful job, no later than 2015.