How one man helped transform Turkey into a society

Analysis: Erdogan's unprecedented third consecutive term is a result of real change in Turkish society brought about by the AKP.

By EFRAT AVIV
June 14, 2011 05:16
4 minute read.
Erdogan celebrates win in Turkish election

Erdogan wins 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Writing these lines, it seems that the AKP, led by the charismatic Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has gained the backing of the Turkish population for a third consecutive term – unprecedented in the history of Turkey.

One of AKP’s members once said that “political stability leads to economic prosperity,” and economic prosperity is a number one factor in the adherence of the masses to Erdogan.

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True, 17 percent of the Turkish population lives below the poverty line, and unemployment is around 12%, but this rate is still much lower than the equivalent in Europe and, in fact, no financial institution has gone bankrupt in the last decade in Turkey.

Quite the opposite: Turkey, currently the 17th economy in the world (and which aspires to be one of the top 10), has an 8.9% growth rate, making the Turkish economy the most dynamic among European countries. It’s no wonder Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu claimed in a television interview that “Turkey is like a giant which has woken up.”

Prior to the elections, a public-opinion poll concerning the atmosphere in Turkish society was conducted. It turns out that the most worrisome element in the Turks’ daily life is neither PKK terrorism nor the EU harmonization, as we might have assumed, but poverty and unemployment. Again, economy plays the utmost role in voting.

Yet the popularity of Erdogan does not depend solely on the economy or his charisma; AKP has made real change in Turkish society.

The transformation from a “nation” to a “society” is highly significant when Turkey is at stake.

Despite the triumph, there is a fallback in Erdogan’s plan: AKP does not seem to have obtained the 330 seats necessary to enable Erdogan to have the constitutional amendment put to a referendum.

It it had won 367 seats it could have done the same, without a referendum.

Aside from a revised constitution, during the electoral campaign Erdogan clearly stated his wish to introduce a US or French-style presidential system into the Turkish one. Since AKP apparently did not receive a constitutional majority of two thirds of the seats in the Turkish parliament, I believe that this scenario is unlikely.

Yet, should AKP will to realize its campaign’s slogan “Hedef 2023” (objective, vision: 2023), which actually portrays the party’s aspiration to lead Turkey in its foundation’s centennial, they should deal with one more problem: Erdogan wouldn’t be able to be elected as a prime minister in 2015, due to the current institution’s law forbidding it.

In this context, it’s interesting to note that Adnan Menderes (prime minister from 1950 to 1960), who was hanged in 1961 by the junta of the first coup d’état, once said that in Turkey no PM can keep his reign for more than a decade without being toppled.

Only the future will tell if Erdogan can break the spell.

When only partial results of the election were publicized, AKP’s opposing party, CHP, led by Kemal “Ghandi” Kılıçdaroglu, conveyed AKP a message, saying: “We wish the best to AKP but they shall not forget that a stronger CHP exists. Not only shall the AKP not forget this, but the entire world. CHP is stronger, it’s more dynamic, it’s younger and it looks for a freer world.”

What Kılıçdaroglu said, in other words, is that though the opposition is unable to block AKP, the world should not forget that CHP grew stronger, and that they learned the lesson taught by Turkish history well.

It’s also a direct message to Erdogan declaring that the dark days of single-party rule in Turkey are gone.

What’s next, one might ask? Following the elections, AKP will be obliged to pursue the democratization-process and implement it within Turkish society, whereas special attention would be given to military-government relations.

Correspondingly, a new constitution is to be set, for the current constitution is the one dictated by the junta in 1982, following the coup d’état two years prior.

The change in constitution is an aspiration of most sectors of Turkish society, though there is debate about the focus of this change.

As it seems right now, the deteriorated Israeli-Turkish relations are expected to follow the same route – though last week there was cause for cautious optimism when Davutoglu called the Mavi Marmara organizers to reconsider their upcoming voyage.

Similar optimism arose when US officials attempted to reestablish Turkey as a mediator between Israel and the Palestinians. And if the aforementioned does not help, maybe Israel should just get used to the idea that its honeymoon is over.

Israel knows by now that even Kilicdaroglu wouldn’t make life easy when it comes to the Palestinian issue. Thus, Israel must wake up from the dream of returning to “business as usual” and, instead, learn how to deal with another four years of AKP reign in Turkey. Istanbul, after all, was not built in one day.

Dr. Efrat Aviv lectures at Bar- Ilan University’s Department of Middle Eastern Studies and is a research associate at the University’s Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies.


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