A new political reality for Turkey

Published by Public Service Europe, 13 June 2011

This has been another fascinating election season in Turkey. Sex scandals, accusations of betrayal, corruption and threats of violence sprinkled with below-the-belt verbal attacks marked the low end of a maturing democracy in the country. Yet - fair and free elections, multiple parties and a long list of independent candidates and turnout above 80 per cent also signalled the undeniable strengths of Turkish democracy.

The outcome is dazzling. The ruling Justice and Development Party – or AKP - has won almost 50 per cent of the votes, a rare success. Before the elections, most observers predicted a minor drop in AKP votes - but still a clear victory somewhere between 39 and 45 per cent. This was primarily because of failed AKP initiatives on the Kurdish and Alevi issues as well as growing concern over freedom of expression - which have caused Kurds, Alevis and liberals to pull their support from the party.

Many believed the damage the sex tape scandals caused to the Nationalist Action Party - or MHP – would be as significant as the success of the main opposition Republican People's Party, also known as CHP. But MHP lost only 1 per cent from their vote share in 2007, still passing the 10 per cent threshold that parties need to enter the parliament. It actually achieved 13 per cent. This can be seen as a success, as MHP was widely expected to fall short of 10 per cent. But the biggest surprise was the low increase in CHP votes. While party leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu worked extremely hard - breaking records in terms of the number of cities visited and rallies held by a politician - CHP only saw a 5 per cent increase from its 20 per cent share in 2007, significantly short of the projected 30 per cent.

The fourth party to enter the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party – or BDP. It received 6 per cent of the votes, up from 5 per cent in 2007. This increase means that the party will have 36 members of parliament, who are technically independent MPs, but in actuality a strong BDP block. The increase in seats from 22 seats in 2007, is good news as Kurdish concerns will have a significant presence in politics. The increase in the number of female MPs from 50 to 78, is also a promising development.

So is the outcome of the elections good or bad news? The answer to that is a wholehearted yes, it is great news. First of all, AKP is the right party to steer Turkey through the chaotic times - both in economic and foreign policy terms as well as the democratic reform process. It remains the only party that really is trying to adopt Turkey into the global realities and has enough brain power to pragmatically change its policies to adjust to ongoing problems in its neighbourhood.

Secondly, while AKP received 50 per cent of the votes - it has only been able to grab 326 seats in the parliament, which is short of the 330 seats needed to undertake constitutional changes without a referendum. Some 367 seats are needed for majority power. This means that while AKP will be able to continue its bold domestic and foreign policy agendas, it will need consensus and support from other parties. Therefore, while Turkey will continue to enjoy the stability that comes with a majority government, it will also benefit from political limitations faced by the government. In fact, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's victory speech after the elections has already marked a change in his tone towards conciliation.

Finally, the four parties in the new parliament - AKP, CHP, MHP and BDP - reflect the vast majority of Turkey's population; from conservatives to secularists, nationalists and Kurds. It is a remarkably healthy formation. The new parliament seems to be well balanced to face some serious issues that demand immediate actions. One day after the elections, the future of Turkey looks bright. And that is good news not only for Turkey, but for Europe as well.