Turkey’s Choice

In what may be Turkey’s most important political event since the republic was founded in the 1920’s, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has won a landslide parliamentary election victory, with around 47% of the vote. Only two other parties – the Republican People’s Party (CHP) with 21% and the National Movement Party (MHP) with 14% – surpassed the 10% threshold for representation in parliament. A number of independents will complete the legislative roster.

What makes the result so complex is that the ruling AKP got far more votes – up 13 percentage points from 2002 – but fewer seats than it had before. The party will be able to form a government by itself, but will lack the two-thirds majority needed to bring about some of the big changes that it seeks. Still, the AKP can be satisfied that after five years in office its popular support has climbed, while the opposition has been shown to be incapable of challenging it seriously.

The AKP’s resounding victory means that the Turkish republic originally shaped as a secular state by Kemal Ataturk in the 1920’s is dead. However, this does not necessarily mean that Turkey will become an Islamic, must less an Islamist, country.

Ataturk viewed Islam as a major factor holding back Turkey’s progress. He sought to banish Islam as a political and social force from the public sphere, though of course the vast majority of the population remained Muslim by religion. For Ataturk, Westernization and modernization went hand in hand. And, indeed, Turkey achieved great success – arguably more than any other Muslim-majority state in the world – in building democracy, maintaining stability, and moving forward economically.