By Edmond Y. Azadian
Turkey has become a world power and consequently, its policies and actions have a broader global impact than those of its immediate neighbors. That is why the international news media, pundits and statesmen were concentrating recently on the parliamentary elections on June 12, in which Erdogan’s party won a third term.
Those elections brought some anticipated and unanticipated results. The anticipated result was the landslide victory of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP party, which was based on certain fundamental factors. Those factors were economic growth (almost 9 percent), assertive diplomacy and finally a promise to revamp the constitution, which was adopted in 1982 by Gen. Kenan Evran’s military dictatorship following the coup of 1980. Erdogan promised to bring “basic rights and freedoms” through the new constitution and eliminate the tutelage of the military enshrined in the constitution by Evran’s putschist government.
Turkey’s population is estimated to be 74 million, of which 20 percent, according to very conservative estimates, are Kurds. There are 50 million voters of which 84.5 percent have been at the polls — an impressive participation by any measure. AKP won 50 percent of the votes, garnering 326 seats in the 550-seat parliament. This outcome will not help the party to unilaterally change the constitution, but it paves the way for some horsetrading with opposition parties in order to push the change through.
The constitutional change issue has also split longtime allies, Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, the latter apparently opposing the change.
The AKP has taken Turkey in new directions in terms of domestic and foreign policy; domestically, the party has opened the way for Islamic culture, a trend opposed by Ataturk’s Republican Party (currently in opposition), upending the founding fathers’ secularism. Internationally, Erdogan has demonstrated an independent streak, veering his course and putting distance between Turkey and the West, and instead cozying up to Iran, challenging Israel and making Russia the country’s major trading partner.