Sunday, July 22, 2007

Islamists Gain In Turkey

The ruling AK Party in Turkey is Islamic based and thus worries many secular Turks as well as those in the west who view religious/political parties with concern. A large number of Turkish voters, however, have no concerns about mixing faith and politics as they turn out in large numbers to give the Party widespread re-election gains. One article from Today’s Zaman outlines the results in detail while a second attempts to explain the whys.

AK Party wins big despite all odds: The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won a landslide victory in yesterday's general elections, leaving its nationalist rivals far behind as it secured an unparalleled 46,9 percent of the national vote, comfortably ensuring that it will again form a single-party government.

Yesterday's vote came in a highly polarized political atmosphere, marred by a memorandum from the military which warned of an intervention in politics amid parliamentary backbiting over the election of the next president. Tensions also increased when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in several provinces across Turkey to oppose a president from the AK Party ranks, something they said would constitute a threat to their secular lifestyle under the AK Party government.

Despite the growing chorus of opposition, however, the AK Party was flattered by a sharp increase in support as compared to the last general elections in 2002, when it won 34.2 percent. "This is a memorandum from the people," commented Milliyet daily columnist Hasan Cemal in televised remarks. "People showed that they do not want polarization."

The reasons why AK Party won the elections: It was a contest foreign observers described variously as "a battle for Turkey's soul," "the most important election in post-war history" and "a key test of the country's secular tradition." Yet for many Turks, it will be business as usual the morning after Tayyip Erdoğan's Justice and Development Party (AK Party) cruised comfortably to electoral victory.

The government led by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan becomes the first Turkish government since 1987 to renew its mandate in a general election and the first since 1954 to increase the percentage of its vote. The question is why they did so well.

For a large portion of Turkish voters, the opposition attempt to turn the election into a matter of life and death, an issue of the nation in peril, just simply did not ring true, according to Ergun Ozbudun, professor of constitutional law at Istanbul's Bilgi University. The electorate showed that it is not afraid that the country is drifting uncontrolled to a more Islamic form of government. "They preferred the stability of a government that has done a satisfactory job to the unknown of a coalition," he said.

Muslims are good businessmen. The AK Party has kept the economy in good shape and is being rewarded for their success. What remains to be seen is to what extent the religious aspect of the party comes to influence social policy in this most westernized of Muslim countries, and how far the secular Turkish military will allow Islam into the national government.