Beyond Kemalism: Verdict of Turkish Poll 2011

Electoral verdict in the 16th Turkish general elections held on 12 June 2011 indicates a major shift in the evolutionary and transitional Turkish representative democracy replacing focus and priority from the ‘privileged’ to the ‘public’ and from the ‘state’ to ‘society’. The verdict has bolstered the feelings of foreign investors and market friendly actors. Throughout his campaign, Erdoğan mobilized voters over economic and other secular issues rather than creating social or religious conflicts. Moreover, he lastly achieved the goal of securing a strong government characterizing political stability with assurances for more political accommodations and drastic constitutional reforms for freedom. Before elections, he faced severe criticisms over the issues of polarization, criminal trial of former army officers and other high officials involved in 1980 military coup and other conspiracies, threats to ‘Kemalist order’, secularism and emerging rifts with the US and Israel.

It is reasonable to mention that the shift from Kemalism to post-Kemalism is aimed at protecting social peace and political stability. However, it is also important to note that Turkish democracy became more inclusive after the Kurdish representatives made their better presence in parliament. In the election, 50,189,930 voters cast their ballots at 199,207 polling points. The 2,568,937 Turkish citizens living abroad can vote at ballot boxes that have been available at border crossing points since May 10. Fifteen political parties are represented by 7,492 candidates in the race, and 203 unaffiliated candidates are running independently. For the first time in Turkish history, parliamentary candidates can be as young as 25 years old, following the ratification of a 2006 amendment to Article 76 of the Constitution.

Turkey, in a social, economic, administrative and political sense, is no longer able to put on its old clothes which were cut and sewn in early 1920 by the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Even CHP’s reforms required to give up the Kemalist ideology for making dialectical advance towards democratization. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is engaged with this project through its calls for shared intelligence, common ground and search for dialogue. Winning world-wide commendations over the peaceful consolidation of the conservative, post-modernist, nationalist and democratic AKP, its leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has promised to fulfill his promises ranging from combating unemployment to the membership of the European Union.

Erdoğan said that his government “will embrace everyone, whether they voted for the AKP or not”. He said the following words after his victory. The lifestyles, faiths and values of 74 million people are entrusted to us. Freedoms will broaden, the prime minister said, adding that everyone will be able to express themselves even better. Our responsibility has grown. We have also been given the authority to make the new constitution. We have been given the chance to make the new constitution with consensus. On the question of constitutional changes, we will sit and talk, and we will have dialogue with the political parties outside the Parliament, nongovernmental organizations and associations. We will make a liberal constitution altogether. The east, the west, the north and the south will find themselves in this constitution. This new constitution will be addressed to every single individual in Turkey. In the new constitution, every citizen will be the first. This constitution will focus on peace. This constitution will be the constitution of the Kurd, of Turkmen people, of Alevis, of all minorities, which means all 74 million people. This constitution will be for fraternity, for sharing, for unity and solidarity.

The role of the AKP cannot be overlooked in the domain of changing the nature of Turkish politics. Its rise needs to be read with the disappearance of the so-called centrist parties and the fall of the pro-military, bureaucracy and pro-judiciary party–”CHP. Its rise can also be associated with the end of the coalition era and political instability. Moreover, the AKP began a new and second phase of democracy in Turkey whereby it pledged to strengthen the power of the people at the national and international levels. Earlier the first phase is attributed with the CHP which consolidated the Turkish State by strengthening the hands of ruling elite and associated forces.

Erdoğan is the only prime minister in Turkish history that won three general elections in a row with each time receiving more votes than the previous election. It was Turkey’s first non-early elections in 34 years. The ruling AKP, will form its third majority government after winning over 50 percent of the popular vote in 2011. The magic 50 percent of the votes has been touched by only two politicians before: Twice in 1950 and 1954 by the late Adnan Menderes and then by Süleyman Demirel in 1965. One in every two voters on the street voted for him and his AKP. The incumbents will be joined again by the opposition Republican People’s Party, or CHP, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, and the Peace and Democracy Parliament, or BDP, in the legislature. The AKP percent of the vote, up by 4 percent from the previous elections, followed by the CHP with 25.9 percent, up by 5 percent from the previous election. The independents in total won about 6.6 percent of the vote.

For the first time, campaigning in languages other than Turkish did not result in a jail sentence, paving the way for politicians to use Kurdish in their quest for votes. It witnessed 87% voter turn out, the largest since 1987 when 93.28% voters went to the polls and 92.3% in 1983 elections. In the first free elections, voter turn out was 89.3%. The lowest voter turnout 64.3 percent occurred in the 1969 elections. In 2007 elections, voter participation rate was 84.5% percent, while voter participation was 73.71 percent in the Constitutional amendment referendum in September 2010. The representativeness of Parliament has significantly improved with the latest elections, as some 50,000,000 cast their votes and 40,963,973 of these votes were cast for parties now represented in Parliament. This corresponds to an 81.6 percent representativeness rate, the highest it has been in 28 years. The same ratio was 71.2 percent in 2007 and a sorry 41.6 percent in 2002. Fifteen parties and 200 independent candidates contested in 2011.

The age for parliamentary eligibility was reduced from 30 to 25. The AKP has become the first party in the last 50 years to win three consecutive elections. AKP emerged as the ruling party, marking the end of the era of coalition governments that began in 1991. The AK Party represents a coalition of moderates, conservatives and modernists and they are committed to "Turkish conformity" particularly its accession to the European Union, participation in the NATO, billion dollars IMF-backed package and secularism. In the elections of Nov. 3, 2002, it secured 34.28 percent of the vote and 363 seats in parliament (TBMM), in 2007 it increased its electoral support to 47. In 2002, voter turn out was 79.1%. However, when Adnan Menderes of the Democrat Party, who received 52 percent of votes in his first elections in 1950. The AKP entered the Turkish political scene on 14 August 2001 under the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and contested the general elections of 3 November 2002 in which it defeated all other established parties, winning 34% of the vote.

A total of 73 AK Party senior officials were elected for the last time in this election. The party’s bylaws state that a person can run for Parliament for three consecutive terms at most. The number of female deputies was boosted from 46 to 78 comprising 14.1 percent of the total number of deputies. In the previous Parliament, 50 deputies were women. With 45 female deputies, the AK Party ranks the first. This term, there will be 19 female deputies from the CHP, three from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and 11 among the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP)-backed independents in Parliament. Some members of judiciary, Journalists and a former Turkish national football team player were elected as members of Parliament. For the first time an Assyrian has made his entry into Turkish parliament. Erol Dora, a BDP-backed independent candidate, has become the first Christian in 50 years to win a seat.

Four disabled deputy candidates were elected. Only 188 of the former deputies were able to be re-elected in this elections. Pro-Kurdish candidates nearly doubled their seats in Turkey’s national elections, making sure the autonomy-seeking minority’s demands for greater rights get heard loud and clear in the months to come. A total of 36 candidates backed by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) won seats, a gain of 16 from the previous election. Among them was Leyla Zana, a former lawmaker who spent 10 years in prison on charges of links to outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that she always denied. In 1991, Zana also caused an uproar for speaking Kurdish while taking the oath of office, in defiance of rules against use of the language in official settings.

Two candidates in prison on charges of being part of an alleged hardline secularist plot to bring down Erdoğan’s government were also elected. Independent candidates running for the BDP attracted around 60 percent of the votes in at least three mainly Kurdish provinces in the southeast and won large protest votes in some Turkish cities, such as Ä°stanbul. PKK designated terrorists by Turkish, the US government and the EU, have been fighting a decades-long battle for independence in Turkey’s northeast. More moderate Kurds say their main goals are to win basic rights like teaching their language in schools. Kurds, who make up 15-20 percent of the population of 74 million, are making more forceful demands for autonomy and the right to education in the Kurdish language. They also want the 10 percent electoral barrier (to get into parliament) lowered.

Soon after the elections, Erdoğan addressed the people with his assurances for more reforms, consensus-based decisions, inclusive democracy and creating a wealthy Turkey. The AKP’s main campaign focus was on economic issues and not religious matters. As a result, businessmen with different allegiances sided with it. He has spoken before of his vision for a "Great Turkey" in 2023 referring to the 100th anniversary of the foundation of modern Turkey by Kemal Ataturk. AKP’s manifesto is unique which is providing the roadmap for 2023 (outlining the policies for the next three terms), the party offered few concrete proposals but said he would slash unemployment, build homes for the poor and push on with economic reforms that have transformed the Muslim country from an economic basket-case to a stable, fast growing economy. AKP’s economic policies have brought inflation to record lows, opened the doors to foreign investment and helped Turkey become one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Economic growth in Turkey is at present +8.9 percent while the highest in one of the European countries–”Germany is +3.6%. In private consumer spending, Turkey scores the percentage of +6.8 while the highest in Europe–”France +1.5. Its national debt as percentage of GDP is 41.2 while of Germany is 83.2, France 81.7, Italy 119, Spain 61.1 and above all EU 27 is 80.2 percent. In the field of unemployment rate, Turkey stands at 10.7 while in Spain it is 20.1and in over all EU 27 it is 9.6.

A few of the more remarkable proposals in the 156 page document (manifesto) are: to replace the 1980 constitution giving larger power to the president, setting the target for Turkey to be one of the world’s top ten economies in 2023, with a tripling of its GDP to US$ 2trillion, reducing the unemployment rate by 5% (half of the current) and increasing an average income per capita at US$ 25 000 (about twice the current). An exclusive policy is the US$ 40 000 interest free loan for newly married couples. Also, the document seeks to increase the female labour force participation from 27 to 35% to 2023. One of the concrete measure to reach this (perhaps rather modest for a country aiming to become one of world’s top ten economies) target is to implement a “child care and education incentive for women who send their children to daycare centers.” It also includes projects to have an indigenous defense industry, to produce air planes all built in Turkey, the launch of national space program and a third international airport in Istanbul. And of course the most grandiose project of them all –” the plans to build a 50 km canal to the west of Istanbul, creating a complement to the Bosphorus.

The growth rate last year was nearly 9 percent, the second highest among G-20 nations after China. As the world’s 16th largest economy, it ranks sixth largest economy of Europe with industrial goods amounting to over 90% of its exports. Looking at these potentials, Turkey is in its advance stage in becoming the member of the European fraternity. Since its economic slump in 2001, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s economic reforms are more than that of 70 years. Turkey’s national output stands at $ 1 trillion for the first time. Its total exports and imports last year were $102.2 and 140.8 billion respectively. The FDI stock reached $ 205 billion. Turkey is a Developed Country. Merrill Lynch, World Bank and the Economist magazine have described it as ’emerging market economy’. To the World Bank, Turkey is an upper middle income country.

Since 2002, Turkey has changed in expanding the frame of freedom of expression, press, freedom of civilian authorities, accountable army, independent judiciary, rights for minorities, workers and citizens. Turkey has already improved relations with Armenia, Greece and others and it is willing to address the problems of the Kurdish community. It is now looking forward to European reciprocity for getting accommodated as a full member of the EU. The historic Turkish Referendum held on 12 September 2010 with 78% turnout on the country’s constitutional reforms of 26 Articles with 58% ‘yes’ votes has sent a strong and unambiguous message to the world that Turkey is in its dialectical advance towards seeking the full membership of the European Union. The referendum was basically the national approval of the constitutional steps taken in the direction of improving the political, legal, cultural and institutional aspects of the country.

Turkey is maintaining its parliamentary representative democratic, secular, unitary, constitutional republic in addition to maintaining an ancient cultural heritage and its own identity. It is integrated with the West through membership in organizations such as the Council of Europe, NATO, OECD, OSCE and the G-20 major economies. Being an associate member of the European Economic Community since 1963 and full member of EU’ customs union in 1996, it is doing its best to seek full membership of the EU. Turkey has also fostered close cultural, political, economic and industrial relations with the Middle East, the Turkic states of Central Asia and the African countries.

Turkey is a founding member of the United Nations (1945), the OECD (1961), the OIC (1969), the OSCE (1973), the ECO (1985), the BSEC (1992) and the G-20 major economies (1999). On October 17, 2008, Turkey was elected as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council effectively began on January 1, 2009. Turkey had previously been a member of the U.N. Security Council in 1951–”1952, 1954–”1955 and 1961. Turkish elections with high percentage of voters’ participation clearly show not only the liberal interests of citizens but also manifests the vibrant image and appreciation of democracy in Turkey.