Turkey's elections: A Kurdish delight

The Turkish election results were both expected and unexpected: As predicted Erdogan's AKP won, while against all the odds a Kurdish Party made it into parliament for the first time in decades.

Turkey Gallery 1 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Turkey Gallery 1
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Turkish elections held no big surprises. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's party, Justice and Development, won, but Erdogan did not achieve the two-thirds majority he had hoped for. It seems as if Erdogan will continue running the country on his own, without a coalition. But if he wants to further change the Turkish constitution, Erdogan will need the support of either partners in a coalition or the public itself via a referendum.
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Out of a total of 550 seats in the Turkish parliament Erdogan gained 325. With 135 members in the new parliament, the Republican People's Party became a little stronger, while at only 54 members, the Nationalist Action Party weakened.
But the most interesting development occurred with the fourth party in the new parliament, the Kurdish Party, which captured 36 seats. While this figure may not seem impressive, it certainly is when compared with past habits and trends, and marks a significant turning point in Turkish politics.
During the last three decades, the Kurdish party in Turkey – under various names – has never managed to pass the election threshold, a high hurdle of 10%. This led to ongoing Kurdish frustrations as the party received between 4.5-6% percent of the overall vote (about 2.5 million voters) that for all practical purposes was entirely wasted.
In the past, attempts by Turkish-Kurdish leaders to run as members of other "legitimate" Turkish parties failed the moment they announced in parliament that they represent the Kurdish minority in Turkey. Consequently, they were forced out of parliament with some even leaving the country.
Thus, the latest elections mark a big change. Backed by their own party, Turkish-Kurdish leaders ran as independents and managed to circumvent the brutal 10% threshold. They will subsequently form a Kurdish parliamentary faction that will be recognized as one of four legitimate parties in the Turkish parliament.
Kurdish friends of mine say they counted over 100 Kurdish members in the new Turkish parliament - 36 of them in the Kurdish People’s Party itself and another 70 in other parties – the majority of which are in Erdogan's ruling party. This has meant that some of the most prominent and radical Turkish-Kurdish leaders are now members in the new parliament in Ankara.
So how will all this fare for the future of Turkey's Kurds?
Over the next few years, the Kurdish issue is going to exhaust much more of Turkey's national energy. The demands of between 17-20 million Turkish-Kurds will be far louder and more effective. It would not surprise me if by the end of Erdogan's third term in office, Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned Kurdish militant leader, is released from jail.
By 2015, the Turkish-Kurds will find themselves with more cultural and human rights and may even gain recognition as a national minority. As a result, Turkey will be less homogeneous but it will be more democratic. Perhaps this means that Turkey will finally turn the page on one of the more embarrassing chapters in its modern history.
The writer, a former chargé d’affaires in Turkey and ambassador to South Africa, was director-general of the Foreign Ministry between 2000 and 2001. Today he lectures at Tel Aviv University, Hebrew University and the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.