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Blessing in disguise

June 13, 2011

Although Turkish PM Erdogan won an absolute majority in the parliamentary elections, his party fell short of the votes needed to unilaterally change the constitution - a blessing in disguise, says DW's Baha Güngör.


Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Justice and Development Party (AKP) won Turkey's parliamentary elections with around 50 percent of the vote, a resounding victory that forces the country's pluralistic democracy to face some cold hard facts.

With voter participation exceeding 84 percent, the results are a democratic legitimation of the AKP's third consecutive election victory since 2002. Over the course of the past three elections, the AKP's support among voters has grown from 34 percent to just under 50 percent, leaving the opposition well behind.

The rest were also-rans: the secular Republican People's Party (CHP) garnered around 25 percent of the vote while the right-wing extremist Nationalist Action Party (MHP) came in with a meager 13 percent. In contrast, independent candidates, many of them supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), managed to secure a respectable 35 parliamentary seats. Among the independents are also non-Kurdish critics of Erdogan, who are currently in prison awaiting trial on charges of plotting a coup.

Blessing in disguise

What are the reasons for Erdogan's third landside victory in just under a decade? Turkey has enjoyed years of stunning economic growth. Reforms, however, that seek to bring the NATO member state in line with the values and norms of the European Union have lost ground as the hopes for an EU accession have cooled. Positive developments such as the consolidation of individual and institutional freedoms for all classes have been pushed entirely into the background.

Turkish service director Baha Güngör
Baha Güngör heads Deutsche Welle's Turkish service

Erdogan's remarkable success is a catastrophe for Turkey. He has become increasingly resistant to advice in recent years and no longer shies away from describing his political opponents almost as enemies of the state. The blessing in disguise is that the AKP fell short of the 330 seats needed to change the constitution without consulting the opposition. For now, Erdogan won't be able to realize his vision of transforming Turkey into a presidential republic.

One of the great paradoxes of the election is that the democrats initially feared the right-wing extremists, but in the end were happy that they surpassed the 10 percent hurdle. If they had failed to make into parliament, the AKP might have won the extra seats it needed for its two-thirds majority.

Tough times ahead

Despite the clear power relationships, Turkey is facing tough times. The pressure by AKP-thugs on dissidents will rise. Freedom of the press will be further restricted and religion, in contradiction to Turkey's secular roots, will gain a higher priority. Thus, Turkey will be an EU candidate state that delivers its own arguments for why that candidacy should be rejected.

Barring a major political transformation, in four years, the AKP will likely achieve the goals that it just missed this time round. There's little danger that Turkey will turn into an Iran with Recep Tayyip Erdogan playing the role of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. A more realistic comparison with Russia's Vladimir Putin suffices to make one worry about the future.

Author: Baha Güngör / sk
Editor: Michael Lawton

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