Daunting Challenges Await Erdogan

By Khaled Abu-Baker, IOL Staff

CAIRO — The relationship with the army, Kurdish separatists, constitutional amendments and accession to the European Union are among the formidable challenges awaiting Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) after its convincing win in the early legislative elections, analysts have agreed.

"The AKP's sweeping election victory is a guarantee for the party in any possible face-off with the army," Turkish political analyst Ibrahim Iqbab told IslamOnline.net on Monday, July 23.

"I believe that the AKP election win will curtail the army's hawks. Now, some retired army generals are trying to convince incumbent commanders to review their hardline positions," he added.

The AK party garnered 46.4 percent of Sunday's parliamentary elections, which translates into 340 seats of the 550-seat parliament, according to unofficial final results.

The main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) came second with 20.8 percent of the vote and 112 seats and the right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) came third with 14.2 percent and 71 seats.

"The AKP's win is a major victory for democracy and a blow to the army," said Turkish analyst Safar Turan.

"The army, which has always installed itself as the guardian of Turkey's secular system, found itself in a real limbo after the election failure of the army-backed parties."

He said the army finds itself now in confrontation with the people not with the AKP.

"The Turkish people are not children to be told by the army generals that 'we know your interests better than you,'" noted Turan.

Lebanese Political commentator Mohammad Noureddin agreed.

"If the army really respects democracy, it should respect the results of the legislative elections," said Noureddin said. "It shouldn't intervene in the course of democracy."

But Noureddin feared that the army could stage a military coup to topple the AKP government after Sunday's win.

"All options are open, including a military coup," said Noureddin. "The popularity of any Turkish party is never an assurance against the army."

Four Turkish government have been toppled by the army since 1960.


Analysts concurred that one of the key challenges facing the AKP is to show more signs of its support for the country's secular system.

"The AKP doesn't have an anti-secularism agenda," said Noureddin.

"On the contrary, the party is secular and works to develop a moderate version of secularism that guarantees religious freedom."

Turan echoed a similar conviction.

"The AKP has repeatedly stressed its staunch support for secularism," he said.

"The main problem lies with secularists who want to impose their extremist policies."

Addressing hundreds of jubilant supporters in Ankara after claiming victory, Erdogan said he is committed to the Turkish secular system and continued reforms.

"We will never make concessions from the basic principles of the republic," he said.

"We will pursue economic and democracy reforms with determination."

Turan said the Turkish people cares now about their economy and welfare.

"I don’t think that secularism will be an issue in the coming juncture," he said. "Lay people are not preoccupied with economic prosperity and social welfare."

Erdogan's campaign focused on his party's impressive economic achievements since it swept to power five years ago.

His government has drastically reduced inflation, maintained strong growth and attracted record foreign investment with a strong privatization drive.

It has also won credibility for easing access to medical care, providing free textbooks for schoolchildren and building cheap lodgings for the poor.


Analysts also agreed that amending the constitution is among the daunting challenges ahead.

"Constitutional amendments have become a key demand for the AKP and other parties," said Turan.

"The Constitution has many vague points, which proved problematic. Thus, constitutional amendments have become an urgent demand to enhance Turkey's stability."

Iqbab agreed.

"The reelected AKP government is expected to introduce substantial constitutional amendments," he said.

The party has 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.

The new parliament will convene next week.

One of the first tasks of the new parliament will be choosing a president to replace incumbent Ahmet Necdet Sezer.


The rocky relationship with the sizable Kurdish minority also stands as a tough task for Erdogan's party.

"The election of more Kurdish MPs this time will push the government to improve services and living conditions in the Kurdish areas in eastern Turkey," said Noureddin.

"But on the political level, the AKP is not likely to cooperate with Kurdish MPs fearing the powerful army," he added.

"The AKP government could also allow a limited military attack into northern Iraq to dismiss opposition charges that the AKP was lenient in facing Kurdish separatists."

Sunday's vote saw the election of 27 Kurdish MPs who ran as independents and would join their Democratic Society Party (DTP), which is widely suspected of being a tool of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to advance separatist ambitions.

Last week, Erdogan said that "the DTP will remain under suspicion as long as it does not condemn the PKK as a terrorist organization."

The PKK stepped up violence this year, sending Turkish nationalist sentiment into a frenzy and prompting calls for a military incursion into northern Iraq, where the Kurdish rebels have hideouts.

But the analysts ruled out that the AKP would bow to public and army pressures to strike northern Iraq.

"A military strike in northern Iraq would prove futile and the AKP if fully aware of this," said Iqbab. "The AKP deals with the Kurdish dilemma in a realistic way."

The Turkish army has been battling the PKK since 1984 in a conflict that has cost more than 30,000 lives.

European Union

Analysts believe that AKP election win will boost Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

"This sweeping victory would enhance the stance of the AKP government in the EU accession talks," said Turan.

"It would also help the government pursue its political and economic reforms to meet the set conditions for joining the euro bloc."

Noureddin added that the AKP's effort to promote democracy in Turkey would win the party the EU confidence.

Turkey was made an official candidate to join the EU in October 2005.

However, Turkey's long quest to join Europe's rich 27-country club has been dogged by problems.

The EU froze talks in December with Turkey on eight of the 35 policy areas, or chapters, that all aspiring members must complete because of Ankara's on-going trade dispute with Cyprus.

On Monday, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn urged Turkey to redouble efforts on European Union-oriented reforms.

"It is essential that the new government will re-launch the legal and economic reforms with full determination and concrete results," Rehn said as he arrived for talks in Brussels between EU foreign ministers.

"The previous government has made very substantial reforms in last couple of years and I trust the next government will indeed focus on re-launching the reform process and thus help to revitalize the EU accession process of Turkey."

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso also said that Erdogan's impressive victory came at an "important moment for the people of Turkey as the country moves forward with political and economic reforms."

"Prime Minister Erdogan has given his personal commitment to the sustained movement towards the European Union. I wish him every success with his new mandate," he said in a statement.

Excerpted from Islam Online.

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