The local elections in Turkey have given the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) a comfortable majority. In effect, this was seen as a referendum on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The AKP took more than 45 percent of all votes cast and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had 28 percent. Erdogan has called results a “victory for democracy” and a blow to the “immoral, aimless politics” of his rivals.
Turkey should now heal its recent political fractures.
In the midst of a political desert, Turkish politics has shown resilience, absent from the political arena in most of its neighbours. The economy multiplied three-fold in just a decade and Turkey is now the world’s 16th largest economy by gross domestic product (GDP). Its military was brought under civilian control and social cohesion improved significantly. Given the post-Kemalist, ultra-secular nationalist stranglehold, with the military as the absolute arbiter of power and presiding over socio-economic and political stagnation, this economic and political success has been quite significant.
However, since last summer Turkey has been beset by political violence and rumours. The problem started with a protest to contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’sTaksim Gezi Park. Protests turned violent and Erdogan’s leadership targeted. This then escalated further with allegations of a corruption scandal in the AKP leadership in December.
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It shot up again with the recent banning of Twitter and blocking of You Tube amid “national security” concerns. Erdogan blames followers of his onetime ally, US-based Fethullah Gulen, in the police and the judiciary, for orchestrating a graft probe and leaking intelligence information (in the form of alleged phone calls) to YouTube to damage his government. Gulen denies it.
A democratic country ruled by law and accountability would understandably be under severe scrutiny, from both inside and the world outside. However, one should keep in mind that Turkish democracy is nascent and is only taking foothold in the last decade after a lengthy period of political volatility, including military coups. It has a long way to go and constructive politics must win.
This week’s local election victory gives the AKP space to reflect from a position of strength. Dark politics, if any, must be unearthed but through undisturbed judicious processes. The ruling party has shown its political astuteness and it has to show similar wisdom in winning the trust of those who have not voted for it. The main reason for the AKP’s continuous success in the polls is its economic success and this should continue to be its priority.
Now that Erdogan has got what he wanted in the polls, he is in a position to show more magnanimity and humility. The political opposition should gracefully accept the verdict of the people with generosity of spirit and work constructively with the government to continue to build a modern Turkey. Stable and matured democracy needs contrasting qualities from both ruling and opposition parties.
The political opposition should gracefully accept the verdict of the people with generosity of spirit and work constructively with the government to continue to build a modern Turkey. Stable and matured democracy needs contrasting qualities from both ruling and opposition parties.
Turkey’s political model is being watched not only across the Muslim world but in many developing countries. The model based on democracy, rule of law and accountability needs political moderation from all – be they nationalist, secularists or Islamist. Coexistence, tolerance and alliance of political moderates in the developing world are the only guarantee against extremism of political fanatics. The Middle East and other developing countries cannot remain perpetually dependent on the hegemonic powers of the West.
The post-independent Arab world has, until recently, mostly been run by absolute monarchies or military dictatorships. Political space was systematically denied to the opponents demanding democratic process, rule of law, freedom of speech and dignity. The Arab Spring, initiated in Tunisia a few years ago, gave people an opportunity to rule themselves. But Syria’s self-destructive path and Egypt’s counter-revolution by its military are proving thorns for Arab progress. The ambivalence or lack of principled stance from the West has exacerbated the situation.
There is too much polarisation, intolerance, death and destruction in this region which was once a cradle of civilisation. The ongoing sufferings in Palestine have all but been forgotten by the world community because of self-inflicted bloodletting in Iraq, Syria and Egypt. In the midst of this anarchy, the Turkish political journey cannot afford to falter.
Turkey needs strong and responsible opposition for a strong democracy. Their continuous defeat in electoral politics can only be overcome through connection with the people and ethos of serving them. Their dislike for the government should only be overcome through strengthening their political base and challenging the government in a responsible manner, not by resorting to violence. Politics should be transparent, dignified and livelier to achieve stability and permanence.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an author and commentator on social and political issues. He was the former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10).
Follow him on Twitter: @MAbdulBari