Turkey’s AK victory shows that Islamism and democracy can be reconciled
There are significant lessons to be gleaned from the overwhelming victory of the “mildly Islamist” AK party in Turkey”s early parliamentary elections for Muslim political parties in the region, neighboring regimes, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan”s skittish Western allies alike. The election is evidence that democracy can be accommodated in an Islamic political platform just as easily as a secular one, and Muslim parties can operate effectively in the government when given the chance. Erdogan proved this week it is a leader”s policies, not political rhetoric, that determine the government”s popular legitimacy. After months of rumblings about possible military intervention, voters chose the Constitution, rather than the Turkish military, to keep whatever Islamist agenda Erdogan may or may not harbor in check.
Turnout reached 85 percent on Monday, with support for AK cutting across religious and ethnic lines, because Turkish voters wanted to reward Erdogan”s policies, not because they were frustrated with the hollow promises of the secular status-quo – as has arguably been the case with the electoral victories of other Islamist parties in the Middle East, such as Hamas. Such a high voter turnout would spell election fraud in America”s so-called “moderate” ally countries like Egypt, but Erdogan earned his constituents” loyalty through good governance, even-keeled development strategies, and consensus-based policy making rather than through coercion and political exclusion poorly disguised behind the rhetoric of democracy.
Totalitarian regimes should take note that integrating Muslim parties into the government can have a moderating influence on an Islamist agenda, whereas pushing them to the periphery of electoral politics has proven to be a catalyst for radicalization. Western allies, particularly those in the EU club, would also be well-served by acknowledging Erdogan”s many concessions over the years by easing Turkey”s path to membership. The prime minister will be under pressure from the conservative core of the AK to fast-track issues that have been sidelined during his first term since they challenge Turkey”s secular foundations, such as lifting the ban on veils in public places. Alienating Erdogan at a time when popular opinion is turning against EU membership could be a catalyst for the AK”s radicalization at the macro-level. As the link between the Caspian Sea and Europe, Turkey could be a valuable ally geographically, strategically, and ideologically, and, as the elections have shown, bridge the widening gap between the secular West and the Muslim Middle East. Turkey”s political field offers much-needed proof in the West and the Muslim world that Islamism and democracy can be reconciled. If Erdogan”s pragmatism is not recognized by the West it could push Turkey and Islamist groups elsewhere toward less conciliatory stances.