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Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP bolstered its share of the vote in Turkey’s parliamentary election thereby becoming the balancing power in Turkey. Günter Seufert reports from Istanbul
Thursday, August 2,2007 00:00
by Günter Seufert The Financial Times

Recep Tayyip Erdogan"s AKP bolstered its share of the vote in Turkey"s parliamentary election thereby becoming the balancing power in Turkey. Günter Seufert reports from Istanbul

From an outside perspective, everything in the run-up to Turkey"s election seemed to revolve around laicism and Islam, or – in the words of those involved – religious freedom and the Islamic threat. Yet only one-fifth of the population believes in the threat to secularism, which is professed by well over four-fifths of the people in the country.

And even now that Recep Tayyip Erdogan"s Muslim-Democratic AKP (Justice and Development Party), which was labelled the hub of religious reactionism before the election, has won an overwhelming victory with 47 per cent of the vote, there is no sense of panic anywhere.

After four-and-a-half years of governing alone, the AKP has managed to increase its share of the vote by around 12 percentage points, from 34.2 to almost 46.7 per cent, and will once again form a government without the need for coalition partners.

While the country"s main opposition party, the social-democratic CHP (Republican People"s Party), has stagnated at 21 per cent, the extreme right-wing MHP (Nationalist Movement Party) nearly doubled its share of the vote to 14.3 per cent.

In order to circumvent the parliamentary election"s ten-per cent hurdle, the pro-Kurdish DTP (Democratic Society Party) ran its candidates as independents. The 23 parliamentary seats they gained correspond to around four per cent of the vote - much less than the 6.2 per cent achieved by their predecessor, the DeHaP, in the last elections.

Front against the AKP

In the election campaign a "National Front" made up of all parties except the pro-Kurdish DTP attacked the AKP, depicting its government as a band of unpatriotic figures who would be willing to gamble recklessly with the existence of the state and the nation.

The CHP invoked the Islamic threat; the MHP the Turkish soldiers killed by PKK terrorists; the nationalist-Islamist SP (Felicity Party) the sell-out of the fatherland to the Jews; and all - including the centre-right party DP (Democratic Party), equated EU orientation, privatization, democratization, and economic openness with the sell-out of national interests.

In unison with the generals, who wrote a memorandum at the end of April threatening the AKP with a coup, this chorus of patriots demanded the immediate deployment of Turkish troops in Northern Iraq to smoke out the PKK and prevent the consolidation of a Kurdish state in Iraq under Mesut Barzani.

The fact that half the population refused to be fooled by this chorus of scaremongers shows that there are limits to the effectiveness of nationalist rabble-rousing in Turkey.

Fiasco for the Kemalists

The result of the election also indicates that the Turks, who love their soldiers above all else, don"t see (politically) eye-to-eye with their generals. This means that while the outcome of the election is undoubtedly a victory for the democrats, it is a fiasco for the hard-core Kemalists in the CHP, who managed to gain only 1.5 per cent despite their alliance with the DSP (Democratic Left Party), the support of the generals, and the "Republic demonstrations" that took place in May and June and were attended by millions of people.

The founding party of the Republic, whose ideology is official state doctrine, is the strongest party in only five of Turkey"s 81 provinces, and is now of socio-political significance in western Anatolia only.

In 36 provinces it did not manage to push through a single candidate. The people who vote for the CHP are the country"s educational elite, those who have already feathered their nests, mostly white-collar workers (rarely blue-collar), and often pensioners.

Hope for the integration of Kurds

The results for the pro-Kurdish party are very mixed. Although it is represented in parliament again for the first time since the early 1990s, it has at the same time suffered a severe blow. In 2002 it was the strongest party in eight of the 13 provinces in the overwhelmingly Kurdish south-east; in 2007 this number sank to four.

In this election, a majority in the southeast chose the AKP, which raises hopes in Turkey that despite all the mistakes that have been made, the political integration of the Kurds is still possible.

The increase in support for the MHP is an indication of the wave of ethnic nationalism that has been flooding Anatolia for the past five years. It has led to the attempted lynching of Kurds and left-wingers and attacks against religious minorities, and has turned the burials of fallen soldiers into exercises in nationalist agitation.

The MHP is drawing voters from all parties except the pro-Kurdish DTP, and to its right the Great Union Party (BBP), whose leader has entered parliament as an independent, is standing at the ready. The MHP is popular among first-time voters, the unemployed, and students.

Threat to the Republic

By contrast, the voters of the AKP are almost completely lacking in profile, and that is what makes the party so interesting. The former Islamists of the AKP are now not only firmly ensconced in mainstream society, they are also the only people"s party in Turkey.

It is supported to an almost uniform degree in all regions, classes, and age groups. What"s more, it is the only party that ties the Kurds in the south-east to Turkey"s political system and at the same time is capable of drawing votes from the extreme right-wing MHP.

It rendered the nationalist-Islamist SP politically insignificant and at the same time included prominent left-wingers and social democrats in its ranks. Today liberal Alevites can vote for it, and Istanbul"s small Christian minorities have long since lost their wariness of it.

Despite all its weaknesses, the AKP is the balancing force in the country - accepting of different identities and able to get by without demonising any perceived enemies. It is the party in Turkey where politics with a bent towards constitutionalism, economic and cultural openness, and pluralism is made. And that is exactly what makes it dangerous for the Republic.


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