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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 27, June 25, 2011

Towards Post-Kemalism: An Analysis of The Turkish General Elections 2011

Tuesday 28 June 2011, by Arshi Khan


The electoral verdict in the 16th Turkish general elections, held on June 12, 2011, indicates a major shift in the evolutionary and transitional Turkish representative democracy replacing the focus and priority from the ‘privileged’ to the ‘public’ and from the ‘state’ to the ‘society’. The verdict has bolstered the feelings of foreign investors and market-friendly actors. Throughout his campaign, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mobilised voters over economic and other secular issues rather than creating social or religious conflicts. Moreover, he also achieved the goal of securing a strong government characterising political stability with assurances for more political accommo-dations and drastic constitutional reforms for freedom. Before the elections, he faced severe criticisms over the issues of polarisation, criminal trial of former Army officers and other high officials involved in the 1980 military coup and other conspiracies, threats to the ‘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 elections, 50,189,930 voters cast their ballots at 199,207 polling points. The 2,568,937 Turkish citizens living abroad were able to vote at ballot boxes that had been made available at border crossing points since May 10. Fifteen political parties were represented by 7492 candidates in the race, and 203 unaffiliated candidates ran independently. For the first time in Turkish history, parliamentary candidates could be as young as 25 years, following the ratification of a 2006 amendment to Article 76 of the Constitution.

The AKP’s victory in the three elections (2002, 2007, 2011) is a reflection of its policies towards empowering the civilians, major constitutional reforms, economic growth and development, and pro-active role in international affairs. The main Opposition, represented by the Republican People’s Party (CHP), is weak in its foreign policy objectives and open economic system in the country. Its overemphasis on Kemalism failed to create a wealthy state in Turkey. The CHP leader, Kemal Kýlýcdaroglu, has spoken of cooperating with the government and anyone else who wants to be involved in the drafting of a new Constitution, although the CHP does have some red lines that it will not allow to be crossed. On June 17, 2011, he said his party was positive about overhauling the current Constitution, which is highly problematic in many areas such as press freedom and freedom of expression because it was adopted two years after a 1980 coup d’etat.

On the same day the top Turkish soldier, Ýlker Basbug spoke of the autonomy of the Army and harmonious relationship with the civilian authority. Kýlýcdaroglu is willing to support the government’s constitutional proposals in areas where their views overlap, such as the abolition of immunities, changes to the higher education law and granting full autonomy to universities. To him, “any changes to the first three Articles constitute red lines for us. The first three Articles reflect the line of the founding will.,” These Articles in the Constitution describe the characteristics of the Turkish state, defining it as a secular republic and a state built on principles of social welfare, and a state where the official language is Turkish. He added that another fundamental principle for the CHP was the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.

Towards Change

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 CHP. Even the CHP’s reforms required to give up the Kemalist ideology for making a dialectical advance towards democratisation. The AKP is engaged with this project through its calls for shared intelligence, common ground and search for dialogue. Winning worldwide commendations over the peaceful consolidation of the conservative, post-modernist, nationalist and democratic AKP, Erdogan has promised to fulfil his promises ranging from combating unemployment to the membership of the European Union.

Erdogan got 50 per cent of votes while the main Opposition CHP’s Kýlýcdaroglu’s efforts failed to break the record despite covering more kilometres than Erdogan during the election campaign (and 10-fold of his predecessor Deniz Baykal). Kýlýcdaroglu updated his party’s position on the Kurdish issue, on the European Union and social welfare. The CHP is the political representative of a tough inner shell of bureau-cracy in Turkey. The main components of this tough shell are the military, civilian bureau-cracy, big capital, high courts, universities, civilian state institutions, and their extensions within the media and artistic world. During normal times when the military guardian regime cannot be directly influential, the CHP represents the civilian guardianship.

The Family Insurance Project, which promises a monthly stipend to poor families, has become the main pillar of the CHP’s promise to diminish poverty in the country. Contrary to earlier election campaigns, in which the party focused on preserving Turkey’s secular regime against religious fundamentalism, the CHP this time based its rhetoric around concrete problems such as poverty and unemployment. Kýlýcdaroglu unveiled a new project almost every week to respond to the fundamental problems of Turkey, including the ones on civil society, children’s rights, women’s rights and socio-economic development of the country’s least-developed regions.

Exposing the Self

ERDOGAN said that his government “will embrace everyone, whether they voted for the AKP or not”. He uttered the following words after his victory.
The lifestyles, faiths and values of 74 million people are entrusted to us. Freedoms will broaden, 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, non-governmental organisations 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 rising popularity of the AKP forced the strongest opposition CHP to raise the issue of common citizens rather than secularism. On the other hand, the MHP accused Erdogan of favouring the Kurdish terrorists, while the Kurdish and pro-Kurdish politicians, were disappointed with him over lack of expected reforms. Beyond borders, Israel was engaged in Turkey-bashing and the EU agencies were passing their remarks highlighting the democracy-deficits. However, in the midst of these ups and downs, the AKP established its political credentials for more reforms, changes and development. Erdogan’s ‘develop-ment politics’ at the domestic level and ‘indepen-dent foreign policies’ and ‘peace initiatives and dialogues’ at the regional and global level seem to be the trump card in Turkish politics which restored the confidence of the voters.

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—the 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 was attributed to the CHP which consolidated the Turkish state by strengthening the hands of the ruling elite and associated forces.

Beyond History

ERDOÐAN is the only Prime Minister in Turkish history to win three general elections in a row and each time receiving more votes than in 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 per cent of the popular vote in 2011. The magic 50 per cent of the votes cast 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 CHP, MHP, and Peace and Democracy Parliament, or BDP, in the legislature. The AKP percentage of the vote is up by four per cent from the previous election, followed by the CHP with 25.9 per cent, up by five per cent from the previous election. The independents in total won about 6.6 per cent 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 per cent voter turnout, the largest since 1987 when 93.28 per cent voters went to the polls and 92.3 per cent in the 1983 elections. In the first free elections, the voter turnout was 89.3 per cent. The lowest voter turnout of 64.3 per cent occurred in the 1969 elections. In 2007 elections, the voter participation rate was 84.5 per cent, while the voter participation was 73.71 per cent in the constitutional amendment referendum in September 2010. The representative-ness 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 per cent representativeness rate, the highest in 28 years. The same ratio was 71.2 per cent in 2007 and a sorry 41.6 per cent 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. The 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, a billion-dollar IMF-backed package and secularism. In the elections of November 3, 2002, it secured 34.28 per cent of the vote and 363 seats in the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM); in 2007 it increased its electoral support to 47. In 2002, the voter turnout was 79.1 per cent. However, Adnan Menderes of the Democrat Party received 52 per cent of votes in his first elections in 1950. The AKP entered the Turkish political scene on August 14, 2001 under the leadership of Erdogan and contested the general elections of November 3, 2002 in which it defeated all other established parties, winning 34 per cent of the vote.

A total of 73 AK Party senior officials were elected for the last time in the latest elections. The party’s bylaws state that a person can run for Parliament for three consecutive terms at most. The number of female deputies increased from 46 to 78 comprising 14.1 per cent of the total number of deputies. In the previous Parliament, 50 deputies were women. With 45 female deputies, the AK Party ranks the first. In this term there will be 19 female deputies from the CHP, three from the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) and 11 from among the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy (BDP)-backed independents in Parliament. Some members of the judiciary, journalists and a former Turkish national football team player were elected as members of Parlia-ment. For the first time an Assyrian has made his entry into the 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 these elections. Pro-Kurdish candidates nearly doubled their seats in Turkey’s national elections, making sure the autonomy-seeking minority’s demands for greater rights are heard loud and clear in the months to come. A total of 36 candidates backed by the pro-Kurdish 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 the 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 the 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 Erdogan’s government were also elected. Independent candidates running for the BDP attracted around 60 per cent of the votes in at least three mainly Kurdish provinces in the southeast and won large protest votes in some Turkish cities, such as Istanbul. The PKK, designated as terrorist by the Turkish and US governments and the EU, has 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 per cent 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 per cent electoral barrier (to get into parliament) lowered.

Measuring Success

SOON after the elections, Erdogan 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. The AKP’s manifesto is unique as it provides the roadmap for 2023 (outlining the policies for the next three terms). The party offered few concrete proposals but Erdogan said he would slash unemploy-ment, 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. The 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. In his speech, Erdogan said his AKP had “restored the honour” of the Turkish lira and defeated “the monster called inflation that lived in the people’s pockets”. He said Turkey will be “among the 10 largest economies in 2023”.

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 $ 2 trillion, reducing the unemployment rate by five per cent (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 per cent by 2023. One of the concrete measures 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 centres”. It also includes projects to have an indigenous defence industry, to produce air planes all built in Turkey, the launch of a national space programme 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 nine per cent, the second highest among G-20 nations after China. As the world’s 16th largest economy, it ranks as the sixth largest economy of Europe with industrial goods amounting to over 90 per cent of its exports. Looking at these potentials, Turkey is in its advanced stage of becoming a 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, the World Bank and Economist magazine have described it as an ‘emerging market economy’. To the World Bank, Turkey is an upper middle income country. Forbes mentions that Istanbul, the financial capital of Turkey, has 28 billionaires as of last March and they were 35 in number in March 2008, ranking fourth in the world. Turkeys’s Vestel and BEKO account for over half of all TV sets manufactured in Europe. It ranks as the sixth largest automotive producers, above Italy, in Europe (2008) and fourth leading ship-building nation in the world (2007) after South Korea, China and Japan. It is ranked as the world’s third largest construction contract industry after the US and China.

Economic growth in Turkey is at present +8.9 per cent while the highest in Germany is +3.6 per cent. In private consumer spending, Turkey scores the percentage of +6.8 while the highest in Europe, France, is +1.5 per cent. Its national debt as percentage of GDP is 41.2 per cent while that of Germany is 83.2, France 81.7, Italy 119, Spain 61.1 and above all EU-27 is 80.2 per cent. In the field of unemployment rate, Turkey stands at 10.7 per cent while in Spain it is 20.1 and in overall EU-27 it is 9.6. On September 17, 2010, Turkey’s power grid was officially connected to the EU Energy System through Bulgarian and Greek grids. As many as 1.2 million Turks work abroad. There are about three million Turks in Germany. Turkey has emerged as one of the largest sources of FDI in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States. Turkish companies have sizable FDI stocks in Russia and its Black Sea neighbours, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. It targets total trade to reach at least $ 450 billion by 2013. Turkey possesses 11 out of the world’s 100 best hotels and earns yearly over $ 20 billion from tourism. In his July 2010 visit to Turkey, David Cameron predicted Turkey to outstrip Canada, Spain and Italy by 2025. The top trading partners of Turkey are Germany, France, Italy and Spain and top non-European partners— Russia, China, the UAE, USA and Iran. Over 50 per cent of Turkish trade is with the EU and it is also a part of the EU Customs Union since January 1996. In addition, it signed Free Trade Agreements with Israel, Morocco, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tunisia, the Palestinian Authority, Syria, Egypt, Georgia and Albania. Turkey is also a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership Community.

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. This new institutional culture and the impressive transformation process have broadened the scope for the Turkish citizens and leaders to be responsive to contemporary challenges in this volatile Hobbesian world.

The recent historic Turkish Referendum held on September 12, 2010 with 78 per cent turnout on the country’s constitutional reforms of 26 Articles with 58 per cent ‘yes’ votes has sent a strong and unambiguous message to the world that Turkey is in its dialectical advance towards seeking full membership of the European Union. The referendum was basically a national approval of the constitutional steps taken in the direction of improving the political, legal, cultural and institutional aspects of the country. Exercise of this political expediency was mainly directed at harmonising Turkish polity and its legislations with the updated standards of the EU. Different institutions of the EU as well as the US welcomed this move towards a positive direction.

Sustaining Turkey’s Identity

THE Turkish nation-state is in transition. It is learning from its past to reduce social conflicts by political harmonisation between the state and society. Under the present AKP leadership, the country succeeded in resisting various forces caused by internal transformations and external challenges with unpredictable borders attributed with secessionism, regional instability, human rights violations, colonisation of Palestine, foreign bases in Iraq and the Israeli possession of over 200 thermo-nuclear weapons. In this chaotic dust-storm, the Turkish leadership has so far maintained a logical balance and relationships with various forces. It has neither brought about a revolution against the Kemalist order nor turned its face from the West. It has emerged more as a ‘regional power balancer’ between the pro-Israel forces and West Asian states. In fact, it seems to formulate its policies on the basis of its internal strength and dynamism reflected in ‘external overtures’.

Turkey is a 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 organisations 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 the 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 that effectively began on January 1, 2009. Turkey had previously been a member of the UN Security Council in 1951–1952, 1954–1955 and 1961.

Questionable Areas

ONLY parties winning at least 10 per cent of the votes cast in a national parliamentary election gain the right to representation in Parliament. Because of this threshold, in the 2007 elections only three parties formally entered Parliament (compared to two in 2002). Some including the Europeans, have criticised this. Between 1998 and 2008 the European Court of Human Rights made more than 1600 judgements against Turkey for human rights violations, particularly the right to life and freedom from torture. Other issues, such as Kurdish rights, women’s rights and press freedom, have also attracted controversy. Turkey’s human rights record continues to be a significant obstacle to its future membership of the EU. There are still significant problems in Turkey, according to the report, which covers the EU candidate country’s progress from June 2010 to May 2011 in meeting the European norms on democracy, rule of law and human rights. In particular, it notes the length of pre-trial detention proceedings, the functioning of the judicial system, restrictions on freedom of expression, the execution of the judgments of the European Court of Human Rights and a number of questions related to national minorities and minority languages as issues that continue to raise concerns.

Turkey has been engaged since 2004 in a post-monitoring dialogue with Parliamentary Assembly Council of Europe (PACE) in its efforts to ensure full respect for democracy, the rule of law and protection of human rights. A 26-member delegation led by PACE Swedish parliamentarian Kerstin Lundgren observed the June 12 elections in the Turkish cities of Istanbul, Ankara, Antalya, Diyarbakýr, Ýzmir, Trabzon and Van. PACE and Parliamentary Assembly of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE-PA) brought together more than 70 observers, including 61 Members of Parliaments, from 30 countries on June 12 and observed that recent changes enacted by the Turkish Government have improved the electoral system. Yet there were some worrying developments, especially regarding freedom of expression, including media freedom. The electoral process was generally characterised by pluralism and a vibrant civil society. Voting and counting observed on Election Day showed a mostly calm and professionally-managed process.


THE Turkish elections with a high percentage of voter participation clearly show not only the liberal interests of citizens but also manifest the vibrant image and appreciation of democracy in Turkey. Voters have been the backbone for the ‘change’ in the country where new but democratic experiments are being made in pursuit of both ‘security’ and ‘conveniences’ which are the two major concerns of the state.

The AKP has mitigated ethnic tension by various measures in southeastern Turkey. It is trying to give a new lesson to the key agencies of the privileged categories to give up the ‘self-driven guardianship’ of the country as they are no more the Platonic ‘ruling class’. On the other hand, both the CHP and its supporters in the Army, judiciary and others are also thinking of not resisting ‘change’.

Turkey is already burdened with heavy expenditures incurred on its forces in Afghanistan and Northern Cyprus. Despite progress, Greece has been blocking various chapters of negotia-tions between Turkey and the EU. Moreover, the Western drive against Turkey over recognising Armenian genocides have been disturbing incidents for Turkey. It is in this quagmire that Turkish voters have preferred for a strong government to meet the various challenges in the days ahead.

Dr Arshi Khan is an Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh.

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