Poll could influence Turkey Mideast posture
Istanbul - With a solid parliamentary majority under its belt after elections, Turkey’s government is set to tackle political challenges in the Middle East with renewed self-confidence.
The ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raked in 49.3% of the vote in November 1st elections, far ahead of the opposition and more than 8 percentage points more than it received in elections in June.
The additional 4.5 million votes for the AKP since June came from right-wing and Kurdish voters who were disappointed with their respective parties. The AKP will have a comfortable majority of 317 out of 550 deputies in the new parliament and can govern without a coalition partner.
Erdogan welcomed the result as a vote for stability, while Prime Minister and AKP leader Ahmet Davutoglu promised the new government would embrace opposition voters. “You should know that we will act according to our responsibility for all citizens,” Davutoglu said in a victory speech.
Allies of Turkey in the Middle East rushed to congratulate the AKP. Khaled Khoja, leader of the Syrian Coalition, an opposition umbrella group, said Turks had voted “not only for the stability of Turkey but also for the stability of the region”. A group of 12 opposition groups fighting in Syria also sent their congratulations. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called Erdogan and Davutoglu to congratulate them.
The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt said in a statement that the election result in Turkey had been “the most significant response to blood-thirsty enemies of democracy in Egypt and Syria, as well as other international and regional powers and Zionists, who stand against the will of free peoples and the fruit of their electoral and democratic endeavours”.
Erdogan has been an outspoken critic of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, accusing him of taking power after a coup ousted predecessor Muhammad Morsi, who had been a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. In Syria, Ankara has pushed for an end to the government of President Bashar Assad by supporting the opposition. Erdogan has also taken a tough line towards Israel, accusing it of “state terror” and other unlawful acts against Palestinians.
Observers say Turkey is expected to become more active in international efforts to end the Syrian war because the conflict has started to spill over with terrorist attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS) on Turkish territory. Suspected ISIS suicide bombers killed more than 100 Kurdish and leftist demonstrators in an attack October 10th. Just days before the election, suspected ISIS militants killed two Syrian opposition activists in Turkey.
Ferhat Pirincci, a political scientist at Uludag University in the north-western city of Bursa, said he expected Turkey to step up talks with other foreign players to try and end the war in Syria. “Turkey will not act alone,” he said.
Critics have accused Turkey of one-sided support for Sunni forces in the region, a charge Ankara denies. Before the polls, the opposition had promised to end that approach and introduce a new course that would include a more conciliatory line towards Assad.
Boosted by the election results, the AKP government is unlikely to change its stance, analysts say. More than ever, it will come down to Erdogan to formulate Turkey’s position. With the president firmly in control, “parliament and Davutoglu will play a decorative role in power”, said Behlul Ozkan, a political scientist at Istanbul’s Marmara University. Following the setback for the AKP in elections in June, when the ruling party lost its parliamentary majority, Erdogan pushed for repeat elections and hardened his position in the Kurdish conflict. The strategy paid off, with the AKP gaining votes from both the right-wing Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP).
Even critics of the president were impressed. Erdogan’s party boosted the number of voters by 20% between June and November 1st, journalist Dogan Akin of the T24 news portal wrote. “I don’t know if there is an example anywhere in the world of another party increasing its votes so much in such a short time.”
Akin and other observers said the MHP’s refusal to take part in a coalition after the June poll and the renewed violence in the Kurdish region, which hurt the HDP, were key developments boosting the AKP share of the vote.
Some of the AKP’s opponents said they were concerned that pressure by the government on critics would increase. Following the election, Erdogan supporters called on the government to seize more media owned by members of the movement of Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish Islamic scholar living in the United States who is accused by the AKP of planning a coup. Shortly before the election, authorities took control of Koza Ipek Holding, a company belonging to the Gulen movement that runs several newspapers and television stations.
“Domestic dynamics will speed up because Erdogan, regarding the election result as a victory for his confrontational approach, will become more ruthless,” Baskin Oran, a prominent intellectual, wrote in the Armenian Agos newspaper. “This ruthlessness will make Turkey ungovernable.”