Netanyahu hopeful on improved ties with Turkey

Speaking in Italy, PM says Israel didn't interfere in election but welcomed a democratic process in another Middle Eastern country.

PM Binyamin Netanyahu and PM Berlusconi 311 (photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
PM Binyamin Netanyahu and PM Berlusconi 311
(photo credit: Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
ROME – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu expressed hope on Monday that the previous day’s election in Turkey would lead to better ties with the country.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party has transformed Turkey into one of the world’s fastest-growing economies and ended a cycle of military coups, won a third term gaining 49.9 percent of the vote, and 326 of 550 seats, in the parliamentary election.
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The vote was AK’s biggest electoral tally since it first came to power in 2002, but the party failed to win the 330 seats it needed to call a referendum to recast the constitution, written almost 30 years ago during a period of military rule.
When asked about the election in a press conference with Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in Rome, Netanyahu said Israel did not interfere in the election but he welcomed a democratic process in another Middle Eastern country, which he said cannot be taken for granted.
“We are not responsible for the deterioration of relations with Turkey,” he said. “We want the relations to be where they were before. We will always try to fix what’s broken, and to end the deterioration.”
Netanyahu said that until recently, 400,000 Israeli tourists visited Turkey annually.
“Any attempt by any leader in our region to improve relations with Israel would be welcomed and appreciated,” he said.
Erdogan will be strengthened by Sunday’s decisive election victory but also burdened by the need for consensus to push ahead with plans for a new constitution.
He will have to focus first on a pressing foreign policy issue right on his borders. Unrest in neighboring Syria has led to nearly 7,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey to escape the brutal crackdown by forces loyal to President Bashar Assad, with more coming daily.
But analysts said Erdogan also must find ways to revive a stalled bid for membership to the European Union and break down French and German reluctance to let Turkey in.
Financial markets were cheered on Monday as investors saw the mixed election result forcing the AK Party to compromise with others to make the constitutional changes. The Turkish lira strengthened against the dollar and bonds also gained.
“The new constitution requires consensus and dialogue with other parties and the society at large,” Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University, told Reuters. “We will see if Erdogan is ready for these with his majority or will he go his own way and impose his own views on Turkey – in which case we will have difficult times.”
Turkish newspapers lauded his success.
“Turkey loves him,” “The master of the ballot box,” said front page headlines next to pictures of a smiling Erdogan waving to cheering supporters outside party headquarters.
Critics fear Erdogan, who has a reputation for being intolerant of criticism, might use the victory to cement power, limit freedoms and persecute opponents.
In a victory speech before thousands of flag-waving supporters in Ankara on Sunday night, he pledged “humility” and said he would work with rivals.
“People gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation. We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties. This new constitution will meet peace and justice demands,” Erdogan said.
The new leader of the secularist opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), which garnered its best result in more than 30 years with 25.9% of the vote, warned Erdogan that he would be watching his movements closely.
“We wish all success to AKP, but they must remember there’s a stronger main opposition party now,” Kemal Kilicdaroglu said.
Analysts saw scope for political turbulence in Turkey.
“The anticipated preparation of a new constitution has the potential to create significant political uncertainty, as it may well raise profound and controversial issues related to the division of power, secularism, religion, nationalism and ethnic minority rights,” Ed Parker, Fitch Ratings’s head of Europe, the Middle East and Africa Sovereign Ratings, said in a statement issued on Monday.
Turkey and Erdogan’s party are often cited as models of democracy living through the Arab Spring series of anti-authoritarian protests in the Middle East and North Africa.
But opponents say Erdogan, whose party evolved from banned Islamist movements, is imposing a conservative social agenda.
Since crushing old establishment parties on a wave of support from a rising middle class of religious Turks, Erdogan has challenged the secularist military and judiciary with reforms meant to help Turkey meet EU standards of democracy.
He also has set the long-time NATO member and US ally on a more assertive foreign policy course, building closer relations with Middle East countries, including Iran.
Some financial analysts had warned that too large an AK majority could polarize a country that is deeply divided over the role of religion and ethnic minorities.
There has been speculation that Erdogan would seek to move Turkey toward a more presidential system of government, with the ultimate aim of becoming president himself.
Besides the economy, Erdogan’s government also will need to tackle a separatist conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast. A strong showing by the pro-Kurdish BDP in the Kurdish region played a role in denying the AK a bigger vote haul.
On Sunday night, a percussion bomb exploded in southeast Turkey, injuring 11 people celebrating election victories of Kurdish candidates, security and hospital officials said.
The explosion occurred around 11 p.m. in the Sirnak province, near the Iraqi border. The wounded were treated at a nearby hospital.