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Turkey - General Elections

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party achieves his third consecutive victory after the Turkish general elections.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party achieves his third consecutive victory after the Turkish general elections.

14/06/2011 - Results

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) made a landslide victory in the general elections that took place on 12th June in Turkey. The party took 49.9% of the vote and 326 seats in the National Grand Assembly, the only chamber in the Turkish Parliament (15 less than in the last general election on 22nd July 2007). The AKP came out ahead of the People's Republican Party (CHP), the main opposition party, led by Kemal Kilicdaroglu, which won 25.91% of the vote and 112 seats (+23) – it also beat the Nationalist Action Party(MHP), an ultra-nationalist movement led by Devlet Bahceli, which won 12.99% and 53 seats (-18). The AKP increased its number of votes but won fewer seats than in the previous election because of the proportional voting system.
Those who stood mainly as independents (mostly Kurds) in order to get around the national 10% threshold, which is obligatory to be able to enter parliament, made a breakthrough winning 6.65% of the vote and clinching 36 seats (+10). "These Kurdish MPs will be able to play an active role in terms of minority issues. This is vital because if we do not negotiate with the Kurds in Parliament they might be tempted to take up arms," declared Ahmet Insel, a political scientist at the University of Galatasaray in Istanbul.
For the first time in fifty years a Christian member of the Syriac Church, Erol Dora, who was standing as an independent, was elected. Also 78 women were elected i.e. 28 more than in the previous term in office, but comprising 14% of all MPs only!
Turnout rose to 86.7% i.e. 2.3 points higher than in the previous general elections on 22nd July 2007.

"Today, once more, democracy and national determination have won," declared Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan when the results were announced. "Gaza, Palestine and Jerusalem have also won," he added clearly showing his sympathy for the Muslim world and notably for the Palestinian cause. "There will be no surprises – it is not a question of who will win the elections but what the Justice and Development Party's majority will be and which steps will be taken to change the Constitution that dates back to the military putsch in 1980," stressed political scientist Soli Özel just before the election. "The point in these elections is not about who will win but whether the Justice and Development Party will have an adequate majority to re-write the Constitution," added Sinan Ulgen, a researcher at the Centre for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies in Istanbul.
The Prime Minister's party almost won the absolute majority but failed to take two-thirds of the seats in parliament (367 seats) which are vital if it wants to change the Constitution without having to have the approval of the opposition forces and public opinion. Recep Tayyip Ergogan's party also failed to win the 330 necessary seats to be able to submit any change to the Constitution to referendum purely on its own decision.
"The people have given us a message to draw up a new Constitution using consensus and negotiation," he declared promising that he would seek "the widest consensus possible" with the opposition and Turkish civil society to "write a new, liberal Constitution that is worthy of Turkey," and that the new Constitution would be based on democratic, pluralist principles. He also promised to find a solution to the Kurdish question. "We are going to take democracy to a new, advanced stage extending rights and freedom. Our responsibility has now increased, our humility also," stressed Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
The latter wants to transform the Turkish political system into a (American or French style) presidential regime. He wants the President of the Republic to be elected by direct universal suffrage (at present he is appointed by MPs) and for him to have extended powers. The head of government will however have to convince both public opinion and also of some members of his party, who do not agree with the need to reform.

To a large extent the results of the AKP in office explain its 3rd consecutive victory in the general elections : GDP growth of 8.9% in 2010, public debt of 40% of the GDP, growing foreign investments, a 20% rise in trade, an unemployment rate of 10.6% after rising to 15% in the spring of 2009, inflation at 4.3% and GDP per capita tripled since 2001.
Since 2002 a new middle class has emerged and the AKP, the party of the "classless" has become the establishment party. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who campaigned under the banner of "Let stability continue and Turkey grow", has set the goal of taking his country into the top 10 economies in the world by 2023, the year that Ankara will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the Turkish Republic by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Turkey is however experiencing some problems: according to the central bank its public deficit has more than doubled over one year to reach a record level of 9.8 billion € (8% of the GDP), the economy is highly dependent on imports and imbalances are growing to the point that economists are now advising to reduce growth to 5%.
Finally Turkey, which occupies a key position in the Middle East, which is now changing radically, has also asserted itself in the international arena, notably across the Mediterranean.

Ahmet Insel, (University of Galatasaray, Istanbul) believes that Prime Minister Erdogan has succeeded in creating "a solid base of popular middle class sympathisers". "For the popular middle classes, Recep Tayyip Erdogan represents economic and also political stability, which the opposition does not seem able to create" he declared adding, "the opposition is not credible in the eyes of most Turks because it cannot position itself as an alternative that might be able to govern without having to form coalition governments as in the 1990's." Although for the last ten years Recep Tayyip Erdogan has never had to face a credible political alternative things have been changing, especially since the appointment of Kemal Kilicdaroglu as head of the People's Republican Party (CHP) on 22nd May 2010.

The Prime Minister's authoritarian management, infringements of freedom (increasing intolerance of criticism and threats and also attacks made against the media and journalists) are also being denounced by an increasing number of Turks. For example the Prime Minister demanded a two year prison sentence against Ahmet Altan, the manager of the newspaper Taraf, who qualified him as an "autocrat". More than 60 journalists are in prison at present in Turkey. "It is a reality and not a fantasy. Turkish society is one in which authoritarian reactions are prevalent; hence a movement as powerful as the Justice and Development Party experiences a natural trend towards authoritarianism," analyses political scientist Ahmet Insel. Finally secular Turks fear that another term in office for Mr Erdogan will help to strengthen the role of religion in Turkey. After two mandates under the AKP the country's main problem is undeniably the weakness of the opposition.

The European Union was almost absent from the electoral campaign and negotiations between Ankara and Brussels are now at a standstill. To date only 13 of the 35 chapters which comprise the accession process have been opened and only one has been finalised. Discussions are stalling because of Ankara's refusal to open its ports and airports to the island of Cyprus and to acknowledge the Republic of Cyprus in line with its commitments. For the first time since the launch of negotiations no new chapter was opened during the Belgian Presidency of the European Union which ended on 31st December 2010. According to a poll by TESEV 69% of Turks support their country's entry into the EU and 26% are against it. 36% of those interviewed believe that this will take place within the next ten years, 13% think this will occur over a longer term, 30% think that Turkey will never join the 27 and finally 21% of Turks say they have no opinion.
"I expect Turkey to be rather inward looking over the next few years and that it will take care of its own political, economic, and social problems. The Turkish political corps will be taken up by the debate over the new Constitution which the Justice and Development Party wants in order to rid the country of an authoritarian Fundamental Law that is the legacy of the military putsch in 1980," indicated Cengiz Aktar, a specialist of European issues at the University of Bahcesehir in Istanbul.

57 year-old Recep Tayyip Erdogan who comes from the popular part of Kasimpasa (Istanbul) started his political career in the National Vision movement that was led by Necmettin Erbakan, before following the latter into the Islamic National Salvation Party (MSP) then the Prosperity Party (Refah). Elected Mayor of Istanbul in 1994 he became extremely popular by significantly improving the living conditions of the city's inhabitants and by waging a determined battle against corruption. On 6th December 1997 he was banned from political activity for 5 years by the Constitutional Court of Turkey and sentenced to prison for "encouraging religious hatred" after having quoted several verses of the nationalist poet Ziya Gökalp in public ("The mosques are our barracks, the domes our helmets, the minarets our bayonets and the faithful our soldiers...."[). He then drew away from Necmettin Erbakan whose movement was dissolved in the same year by the Court and he founded in 2001 the Justice and Development Party which won the general elections on 3rd November 2002. However Recep Tayyip Erdogan could not become Prime Minister because he was unable to take part in the election due to the five year ban on political activities (Turkish electoral law demands that the Prime Minister should also be an elected MP). He finally took over government after winning a seat as MP in Siirt, the town from which his wife comes in a by-election on 11th March 2003.
During his first term in office as head of government he achieved the launch of the accession associations to the EU in 2005. Re-elected to his position on 22nd July 2007 he developed the Turkish economy. The victory of the AKP on 12th June is therefore a hat trick for Mr Erdogan, the first Islamist democratically elected leader to have stayed in power for so long.

He announced that his mandate as head of government would be his last, according to the rule he established himself within his party, i.e. limiting the MPs to 3 consecutive mandates. However the leader of the AKP does not hide his desire to become the first President of the Republic of Turkey elected by universal suffrage.

Source : Internet site of the elections in Turkey
Publishing Director: Pascale JOANNIN
The authors
Corinne Deloy
Author of the European Elections Monitor (EEM) for the Robert Schuman Foundation and project manager at the Institute for Political Studies (Sciences Po).
Fondation Robert Schuman
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