At a time when the champions of imperialism do not hesitate in strangulating democracy as the world witnessed in the case of Algeria’s Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) being thwarted in their fair chance to win power in the not-so-distant past, the sweeping victory of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the July 22 early legislative elections is indeed a lesson for the army. It is in fact “the people’s memorandum” to the army to stay out of politics. With 340 seats (46.4 per cent) in the 550-member parliament – the largest support a Turkish party has gained since the 1969 legislative election – the AKP is once again forming a government on its own.
This thumping victory of the pro-Islam party has assumed added significance in the charged ultra-secular scenario prevailing in the country where the army has been posing a real threat to the emergence of a strong and stable democratically-elected government. It was this charged scenario which toppled four Turkish governments since 1960, made former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan keep from politics and former Member of Parliament Merve Safa Kavakçi leave the parliament for no crime save and except their love for the ideals of Islam thanks to the legacy of the founder of modern Turkey Kamal Ataturk, who had put a blanket ban on everything Islamic like calling of adhan and wearing of Turkish caps. But this time the AKP has emerged stronger and thus this sweeping election victory promises a sort of guarantee for the party in any possible face-off with the army. It will curtail the army’s hawks as some retired army generals are now trying to convince incumbent commanders to review their hardline positions. One of the first tasks of the new parliament will be choosing a president to replace incumbent Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Erdogan faced the worst crisis of his career in April when the opposition boycotted a parliamentary vote in which his right-hand man, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, was almost certain to be elected president. The crisis climaxed as the influential army warned in a stiff statement that it stood ready to step in to protect the secular system. Erdogan has said he will seek a compromise with the other parties in presidential elections, but insists that the candidate for the job must be chosen from his party. Now with the changed scenario it is hoped that Erdogan will succeed in tackling this crisis amicably.
After the election failure of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) with 112 seats and the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) with 71 seats, the army, which has always installed itself as the guardian of Turkey’s secular system, finds itself in a real limbo.
It is the pro-people endeavours like impressive economic achievements, drastic reduction in inflation, sustained economic growth, record foreign investment with a strong privatization drive, easing access to medical care, providing free textbooks for schoolchildren and building cheap lodgings for the poor since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s party swept to power five years ago that have yielded it one more chance to lead the nation.
As Prime Minister has declared his commitment to the Turkish secular system, no concessions from the basic principles of the republic and pursuance of continued economic and democratic reforms with determination, the best course open for the Turkish army as well as the world at large is to respect democracy and the results of the legislative elections.
However there is no smooth sailing for Erdogan as he has daunting challenges ahead. The relationship with the army, dealing with Kurdish separatists (who have 27 MPs in the parliament), effecting substantial constitutional amendments and winning accession to the European Union are among the formidable challenges awaiting him.
The Turkish Constitution has many vague points, which have proved problematic. Thus, constitutional amendments have become an urgent demand to enhance Turkey’s stability. The party has already put forward amendments envisaging a two-round popular vote to elect the president and a once-renewable five-year presidential mandate instead of the current single, seven-year term.