Turkey’s Elections 2011: A Facts finding research study

Mehmood-Ul-Hassan Khan

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, accompanied by his wife Emine Erdogan

In the recently held elections, Turkish Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) has once again won the hearts and minds of the voters and scored a tremendous third consecutive electoral victory. The results showed AKP won 49.9 percent, or 326 seats, just below the 330 required for a plebiscite. The voters marked AKP’s biggest electoral tally since it first came to power in 2002. They endorsed the policies of the AKP government which has transformed Muslim Turkey into one of the world’s fastest growing economies and blocked a cycle of military coups.

The elections 2011 were struggle of civilian supremacy over martial mentality. It was fight for equitable societal rights with out any cast or colour discrimination. It was the will of the voters to have a tolerant and pluralistic society. It was indeed first step towards gigantic overhauling in the political system, and constitution too. The elections 2011 were endorsed the continuation of geo-politics and socio-economic prosperity of Turkey. And the last but not the least, it was vote for the “Change”. Nevertheless, the outcome of the elections 2011 demand that Turkish Prime Minister “street-seller to statesmanship will seek consensus from the other political parties to push ahead with a planned new constitution. The immediately Turkish financial markets boosted. The Turkish lira strengthened against the dollar, while bonds also gained strength.

Winners and Losers

Democracy was the clear victor in the Turkish elections 2011. No one was obvious losers. Every one gained substantial achievements and strengthened its political leverage and presence in the grand parliament.

It was the first ever election in Turkey where verbal and written election campaign material in Kurdish was legally used. The share of women deputies in the 550 seat parliament significantly increased, from 50 seats in the previous parliament to 77.

1. Justice and Development Party (AKP)

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party increased its share of the votes to 49.9 percent from 46.5 percent in 2007 and 34.3 percent in 2002, and became the first political party to win three straight victories in the last decade in 60 years of multi-party democracy in Turkey. Despite the larger share of the votes, AK’s number of seats fell to 326 from 341 in 2007 due to the distribution of votes across different provinces. However, the AKP won in all the regions of the country including the Kurdish-majority region, receiving about as high a proportion of the votes as in the entire country.

The party needed 367 members in the parliament to bring purposeful changes in the constitution or 330 to send a draft to the electorate for a referendum. It only received 326.

Reasons

(a) Outstanding performance of the Turkish macro-economy in the last two terms. Turkey once famous for hyperinflation and fiscal deficits shrugged off the global financial crisis to become the world’s 17th largest economy with growth last year of 8.9 per cent. Per-capita income tripled from $3,000 to $9,000 in less than a decade while foreign investment inflows jumped from $1 billion a year to $20 billion a year and trade with the rest of the world burgeoned to $200 billion. Continued stability and sustainability of the economy forced the voters to vote for AKP.
(b) Strong political commitment for the constitutional changes especially holds military from the fields of national politics
(c) Charismatic leadership of Tayyip Erdogan. No personal or financial scandal. Rigorous statesmanship on many national, regional and international issues made him “Darling of the Nation”.

2. Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)

The pro-Kurdish BDP has emerged the other big winner in the recently held elections in Turkey besides the AKP. It supported many independent candidates and won due to a broader support base. The BDP succeeded to form a winning combination by making coalition arrangements with two other pro-Kurdish parties the conservative Participatory Democracy Party (KADEP) and the federalist Rights and Freedoms Party (HAK-PAR) which ultimately paid off by drawing support from religious voters and others at large. The party secured 35 seats in parliament, an increase of 15 deputies from 2007. It faced difficult circumstances because Turkish electoral rules require a party to win at least 10 percent of the national vote to make it into parliament. It managed to increase its number of seats from 21 to 36.

Reasons

(a) Better political strategies to appease the common voters especially younger population on the issue of increasing unemployment, widening rural and urban poverty and massive urbanization
(b) Better utilization of incorporated political advertisement facility/privilege especially in Kurdish language
(c) Successful coalition and seats adjustments with other political parties and independents increased its seats in the parliament.

3. Republican People’s Party (CHP)

The largest opposition party, the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP) won 26 percent of the vote the best ever result in the last 30 years. It marked a boost of 5 percentage points over its performance in 2007. But it also fell short of predictions by the CHP officials. It tried to appeal to a larger electorate and did not prolong its campaign on ideological divisions. That strategy attracted voters in the elections 2011 but the final tally was not enough to carry the party over the critical threshold of 30 percent. Moreover, the party lost some coastal provinces that were traditionally CHP safe heavens.

Reasons

(a) Supported the projected constitutional changes
(b) It did not provoke the voters on ideological prophecies
(c) Widespread of secularism, tolerance and equal rights drive and constant stance
(d) Issue based campaign no rotary but logical persuasion of political goals

4. Nationalist Movement Party (MHP)

The vote of the ultra-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) fell to 13 percent, down from 14 in the previous election, and its number of seats in the parliament decreased to 53 down from 71 in the previous one. Many factors played important role in the fall the MHP which were not confined only to its inflexible attitude towards constitutional change and political reforms and amicable solution of the Kurdish problem. Last but not the least the scandals over womanizing deputies in the MHP leadership on the eve of elections heavily cost the party, resulting in a huge displeasure of women voters.

Reasons

(a) Serious allegations towards moralities debarred it from the electoral support of the women voters.
(b) Supported the status quo in the political system, civility and constitution
(c) It did not support national reconciliation in the country
(d) Politics of fear bagged substantial decrease in its overall tally in the grand parliament.

Key Issues

The elections 2011 were contested on some certain issues which are elaborated in the below as:

1. Plans for a new constitution: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK party and Republican People’s Party (CHP) launched a successful election campaign and succeeded to win the voters confidence on this particular issue. It was hoped that a new constitution would be short, compact, open, focused on the individual, and committed to freedom. Moreover, it would guarantee civilian supremacy over military bureaucracy.
2. Kurdish rights: Sensitive issue of Kurdish right loomed large during elections preparedness. Turkey still confronts a long guerrilla war confronted fiercely between Kurdish separatist guerillas and the Turkish state. More than 30,000 people have been killed since the conflict broke out in the early 1980s.
3. Turkey’s economic strength: People voted overall for stability. They voted for seeking basic necessities of life and of course bread and butter issues. They voted for the welfare of their lives and living standards. Promises and high expectations of further economic reforms, business and investment friendly policies, diversification of national economy, and institutionalization of commercial diplomacy played crucial part in the elections.

The famous and beautiful Sultan Ahmed Mosque – Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Main Tasks after the elections 2011

The new government of Erdogan will badly need to tackle a separatist conflict in the mainly Kurdish Southeast region. A strong performance by the pro-Kurdish BDP in the Kurdish region played a major role in marginalizing the AK grand victory in the elections.

The assertion of civilian control over the military junta, which overthrew four elected governments in the last 50 years, would be one of the disturbing factor and challenge in the days to come for the ruling party. To make political consensus and societal harmony on expected constitutional changes would be another towering issue for the government. The government announced ambitious plans titled “Turkey 2023,” which includes digging a canal through Istanbul from the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea, which would parallel the Bosphorus Strait. The completion of these mega projects would be a tough task for the AKP. Moreover, easy and smooth sailing of the national economy would also be manageable task in the days to come. Generation of new employment opportunities, reduction of poverty, inflation and overhauling in the tax system will be instrumental to intact the hopes of the common people in the days to come.

Regional Ramifications

Turkey has ideally inspired by all the researchers, common people and intellectuals in the Middle East region as ideal model for economic growth, modern Islam and governance. With the exception of Turkey, political Islam in the Middle East and North Africa has been labeled dysfunctional in the modern times. The election 2011 has some serious regional geo-political and geo-strategic implications which are given below as:

1. Nature and role in NATO’s future missile defense architecture

Being the second largest military in NATO, Turkey has been a significant actor in many NATO operations. But its strong reservations on the installation of missiles were not so appreciable in the Washington, Brussels and Middle East. Turkey’s convergence and divergence would create serious geo-political and geo-strategic problems for the main power stakeholders.

2. Turkey’s stalled EU accession bid

France and Germany oppose full Turkish membership in the EU, proposing instead a privileged partnership between Ankara and Brussels which Erdogan has dismissed as insulting which needs to be renegotiated. Efforts should also be initiated to settle the Cyprus issue as soon as possible for its onward march towards full fledges EU membership.

3. Deteriorating Turkish–Israeli relations

Israel is Turkey’s most favored nation. But follies of Israel compelled Turkey to disengage with ties it. Its continued brutal state policy towards Palestinian people was one of the main. It increased Turkey political leverage and popular support in the Middle East region. Now, it would not be so easy for the new Turkish government to reunite its ties with Israel. Its increasingly closeness to Tehran would bring mixed dividends in the region.

4. Extended support for Hamas

Turkey’s role as facilitator and mediator has been gained momentum in the regional and international power politics spheres. Erdogan’s government has shown support for the people of Gaza with the aid flotilla and played decisive role in achieving reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. Its extended spells of sympathies towards Palestine cause may not defame its ties with EU and US.

5. Worrying Turkish–Iranian rapprochement

Turkey strategic rapprochement towards Iran has produced dints in the Arab Gulf region. Its strong stance on Iran peaceful nuclear program was not approved by some regional countries as well as the West. So, its continuation towards a Iranian cause would not be pleasing in the days to come.

6. Peace in turbulent Afghanistan

Turkey has been playing proactive role in bringing peace in Afghanistan. It supported different peace conferences, missions and formulas for settling political chaos in Afghanistan. Since, the US has already announced its planned withdrawal from that uncertain soil, the role of Turkey would be important and instrumental in the near future.

7. Reestablishing of regional power equilibrium

Worsening ties with Libya and shaky relations with Syria would be turning points in its zero-problem foreign policy. Turkish socio-economic, goo-political and goo-strategic stakes are very high in these two countries. Further strengthening of bilateral relations with regional important countries such as UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar would be provide strategic cushion and leverage in the days to come.

Concluding Remarks

Change is the ultimate outcome of Turkish elections 2011. People’s will and strong political commitment are the hallmark of this election. People’s dreams for better living standards, eradication of poverty, generation of employment opportunities, equal civil rights and no to any kind of bigotry are the pivotal victors.

The elections 2011 are also the sincerest effort to bring isolated political factions and marginalized communities in the main stream of national politics. It is indeed first giant step towards ballot sacredness over bullet. It clearly reflects the soft power of political Islam in modern times. And the last it upholds that strong macro-economy can do wonders.

The election 2011 has national, regional and international ramifications which carefully need to be reorganizing, reconsider and revisit.

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