The recent Turkish parliamentary elections produced a humbling result for the Justice and Development Party (AK party). With nearly 41 percent of the vote, the AK party won approximately 258 seats, just short of the 276 benchmark required for a majority. That seemingly small shortcoming signifies a momentous transformation within Turkish politics, altering the AK party’s rule over the country.
However, this unexpected outcome may mean the loss of battle, rather than losing the figurative war. After all, the AK party has won their 11th election in 13 years and is clearly in the driver’s seat. Thus, it is not accurate to interpret the results as a resounding defeat for the AK party or President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
If anything, this election has revealed the deep support that AK party’s “New Turkey” enjoys, despite the criticism levelled against it by mainstream western media. Take the New York Times, for instance, which labelled the AK party as anti-women even though they have 41 female deputies elected to office – more than any other political party.
What’s more, Turkey’s A&G Research Centre announced that 55 percent of women voted for Erdogan in the presidential election. Though, the real lesson to be derived from this election is the need for a pluralistic and inclusive Turkey, in which no side can afford to ignore another.
For the AK party, this new political environment offers a corrective moment that could, conceivably, secure an even bigger margin of victory in another election that seems certain to be around the corner.
Turkish law mandates news elections if a coalition cannot be formed in 45 days. Erdogan has already invited AK party chair Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to the presidential palace and given him the mandate to form a new government, pleading with all parties to work towards reconciliation.
Considering Turkey’s disastrous history of political instability prior to the ascent of the AK party, voters will likely penalise those seen as refusing to compromise. For that reason, the AK party needs to come out strong against corruption, make public purges of any pockets of malfeasance and send a clear signal that the people have been heard. By doing so, it would portray itself as a party for all – even those who did not vote for it.
The AK party needs to come out strong against corruption, make public purges of any pockets of malfeasance and send a clear signal that the people have been heard.
Furthermore, the AK party can contribute towards reducing polarisation in society – but to squarely blame them for this is somewhat disingenuous. To their credit, a tone of conciliation is coming from Davutoglu and his vocal deputy prime ministers Bulent Arinc and Numan Kurtulmus. They are both sending positive messages by openly declaring they will not close any doors on political opponents and that there are no “red lines”.
Essentially, the use of divisive and uncompromising language is the antithesis of statecraft and at this crucial juncture all political parties need to resist such mindsets. Unfortunately, the leaders of the Republican People’s Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), continue to use an aggressive rhetoric by rejecting any collaboration with the AK party; without doubt, this will only hurt them in the future.
For the CHP, MHP and HDP, this election offers a real chance to influence policy-making. Especially for HDP, it provides a unique occasion to concretely advance legitimate Kurdish rights. However, the main obstacle for Turkey’s erstwhile opposition is their ideological narrow-mindedness.
By focusing on top-down politics, each seem uninterested in representing all their countrymen. Take the CHP and HDP, for instance; they have alienated the conservative constituency by announcing that they wish to shut down Diyanet – the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs. For its part, the MHP’s narrative is laden with fascist undertones with its rhetoric against Kurds, Albanians and other ethnic minorities.
Rising from the Ottoman legacy, Turkey is more than a nation-state: it stands for hope for many in the Muslim world, from Morocco to Malaysia, from the shores of Africa to the mountaintops of Kashmir and, particularly, minority communities scattered throughout the Caucasus and Balkans.
Modern-day Turkey is an alluring symbol of what the future of Muslim polities could be, in which faith, knowledge, and modernity, come together beautifully under the rule of law, fairness and gender equality. For that reason, the leadership of this important political entity must not simply be acceptable, it needs to be exemplary, and repudiate the divisive forces tearing the Middle East apart.
The great expectation from Turkey is that it serves as a model for balancing Islam, democracy and pluralism, and proposes a path away from both Sunni and Shia extremists who plague the region.
The AK party needs to recognise where they went wrong, where to improve and show others how to maintain dignity when elections go awry.
Equally important, the CHP, MHP and HDP need to re-evaluate their respective positions and work towards compromise and collaboration. If the opposition is not careful, then the AK party could use this opportunity to ride a future people’s wave of discontent and fear of instability towards overwhelming power. But, that will not resolve the matter of polarisation.
All political players must come together and support a coalition government to send another powerful message to the whole world: the maturity of Turkish democracy in which Islamists, secularists, Kurds and Turks, men and women work together.
Farhan Mujahid Chak is an associate professor of international affairs at Qatar University. His latest publication, ‘Islam and Pakistan’s Political Culture’ was published by Routledge in October 2014.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.