Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan would be going to his nation for a third term on June 12. While Turkey went on a massive overhaul in the past two governments under Mr. Erdogan, this would be third time he would be seeking reelection to continue his policies that has provided Turkey a platform of unprecedented economic growth with greater regional influence. It is widely expected that Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) would easily take 300 out of 550 seats in the election. With only three parties expected to make their way to the assembly there are total 15 parties in the race. AKP is in power since 2002 and has been source of revolutionary changes in a normally static Turkish politics.
One of the biggest achievements of Mr. Erdogan and his government of AKP party is 8.9 per cent GDP growth, unmatched by any other country in Europe. While European governments are busy introducing austerity measure Turkey is enjoying a steady growth that is nowhere seen in any other European or other country. This economic stability provided Ankara an opportunity to focus on many pressing issues such as foreign policy, which was non-existence since it joined NATO. Being the biggest troop provider to NATO it was never accepted by the Europeans as their full partner. With a visionary foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s Turkey Turkey has followed a near dream policy of “zero problems with neighbours,” easing its stress on military and providing a breathing space for economic growth. But there were many occasions where Turkey never shied to show its muscle. Mr. Erdogan’s government in its two terms has increased trade with its neighbours from $5 billion in 2002 to $16 billion in 2010.
With these all achievements the Erdogan government had it full share of domestic problems too. An Islamic party in a secular state has been accused right from the beginning as being an Islamic government under disguise. Erdogan also faced issues when he nominated Abdullah Gull as president because of the fact that his wife used to wear hijab and the list is goes on. The criticism of his Erdogan’s government is mainly from secular parties and many liberal or secular writers, journalists and other notable people have come out in open to criticise the government. His government is accused of rounding up several hundred journalists, academics, politicians and military officers in last four years. AKP on their side claim that there are active groups sponsored or supported by people in military to topple its government dubbed ‘Ergenekon’. The arrests and jailing are done to curtail that threat. This is no secret that certain factions of military severely appose the AKP government. The trial of over 100 military officials including senior officials is an example of how far this resentment goes.
Erdogan facing such sort of resentment and extremist ideology and reaction claims that these investigations and arrests are a vital part in eliminating the military’s traditional control over Turkish democracy. Very recently AKP came under fire again when 10 senior politicians of the Turkish nationalist party, resigned after the video showing them in compromising position emerged, the blame was right away put on AKP and the government was accused of smear campaign against its main opposition members. MHP accuses that this sudden emergence of videos is a well-orchestrated attempt by the ruling party of Mr. Erdogan to initiate this smear campaign in an attempt to dent the MHP’s prospects of substantial election gains. MHP has 72 seats in the outgoing parliament that will take a toll from AKP gaining ground because of its appeal to mostly middle class and lower middle class voters who are more concerned about the morality issues. If Erdogan captures seizes this opportunity and go all the way killing the MHP voter base it could regain the crucial majority to come in a position to change the country’s constitution.
The morality issues are coming at the fore that shows a clear shift in a usually secular and liberal Turkey. Deniz Baykal also a main opposition leader resigned last year because of the same reason when a video was released showing him in an affair with a female member of parliament from his party. Another major shift seen in the opposition is the emergence of Kemal Kilicdaroglu, who became leader of the secularist and nationalist party CHP, established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Kilicdaroglu belongs Tunceli, an eastern Anatolian City with majority Kurds and Alevis. Kilicdaroglu after his election went on to clean the party from hardliner Kemalists and moved it towards the more liberal stance from the traditional secularist politics.
Hitting directly on the growing influence of AKP on low income and middle class voters CHP pledged a family insurance scheme that would distribute $350 per month to low-income families. It blends this with the slogan of “Turkey will breathe freely” appealing to the educated, secular voters. There are chances of that CHP would be able to almost double their share of current 21 per cent share of the votes.
The Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), is supporting 61 independent candidates to circumvent the 10 per cent party threshold. It is expected to gain nearly 27 to 32 seats in the new parliament. Kurds have enjoyed a relatively calm period under Erdogan where they enjoy a more relaxed environment as compared to the repressive years of the 1990s. But Erdogan in his next term faces even bigger questions of greater autonomy of the Kurdish region, to move or not the PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, in custody since 1999, from prison to house arrest and education in the Kurdish language.
After Sunday’s vote there are more chances that Turkey will continue moving towards greater economic stability. There will be bigger challenges for Mr. Erdogan and his AKP party to manoeuvre in the post Sunday environment if it fails to gain substantial majority enabling it to fulfil its agenda of constitutional reforms. Beyond Sunday I see a Turkey further divided and polarised because it seems that both sides have come head to head in this elections to challenge the status quo present in Turkey after Ataturk’s departure. The confrontational environment shows how much Turkey has moved towards the centre in some ways beyond Ataturk, no way it could have imagined that AKP would ever win an election, let alone completing two terms and seeking a successful third term in office.
On the other side the shift in CHP shows that maybe time has come for Turkey to actually move towards an open and really secular country where personal ideologies are not scrutinised under the microscope secularism or what many call kemalism. This is the first election perhaps in the history of Turkey where the main paradigm has shifted from ideology to practical matters, like economy, like reducing poverty, like the rights of minorities. There are many who point fingers at Mr. Erdogan but one thing he should get credit for is turning around Turkey’s economy, providing it a stature among the world nations, making it a beacon of social justice and democracy. At the end of the day the electorate provides the powers Erdogan is using to bring changes. Many of Erdogan’s supporter call him the new Ataturk and now doubt if he gains a majority he would be facing the task of establishing a consensus for a new constitution appropriate for the now changed Turkey. But for sure Turkey was not when Erdogan took its reins and would never be the same when he will come to power once again after Sunday. All we have to do is wait and see the results of Sunday’s election.