AK Party wins big despite all odds

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won a landslide victory in yesterday's general elections.

AK Party wins big despite all odds

The ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won a landslide victory in yesterday's general elections, leaving its nationalist rivals far behind as it secured an unparalleled 46,9 percent of the national vote, comfortably ensuring that it will again form a single-party government.

The center-left but nationalist Republican People's Party (CHP), the closest rival of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's AK Party, won 20,7 percent of the vote, finishing the race close to the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP). The MHP secured a return ticket to Parliament, following a five-year break, with 14,3 percent. The results reflected 98 percent of the votes having been counted when Today's Zaman went to print.

Yesterday's vote came in a highly polarized political atmosphere, marred by a memorandum from the military which warned of an intervention in politics amid parliamentary backbiting over the election of the next president. Tensions also increased when hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in several provinces across Turkey to oppose a president from the AK Party ranks, something they said would constitute a threat to their secular lifestyle under the AK Party government.

Despite the growing chorus of opposition, however, the AK Party was flattered by a sharp increase in support as compared to the last general elections in 2002, when it won 34.2 percent. "This is a memorandum from the people," commented Milliyet daily columnist Hasan Cemal in televised remarks. "People showed that they do not want polarization."

The main opposition CHP hoped to benefit from the republic rallies and boost support from urban secularists in its bid to unseat the government. "This time, every single vote has great value," CHP leader Deniz Baykal said a day before the elections. But his party's performance was rather lukewarm, and showed little improvement on the last elections in 2002, when it won around 19 percent.

"Our democracy successfully passed a significant test in a manner that would constitute a model to the world and proved its maturity. Our democracy emerged stronger. The winner of the elections is democracy, security and stability," Erdoğan told supporters packing a street outside his party headquarters.

"Our nation confirmed that the AK Party represents the social center. This is the first time a party has managed to increase its support while in government in 52 years," he said.

Erdoğan also assured the secularist electorate who did not vote for his party that their choice is respected. "I understand the message from those who did not vote for us. Rest assured. … There will be no concession on the basic characteristics of the republic," he said. "Our word to you is that we will embrace all of Turkey with no discrimination."

The AK Party urged the public to provide its support, pledging the continued stability and economic growth that it has presided over during the past four-and-a-half years in power. Investors were already pricing in a new AK Party government and the results of yesterday's polls are expected to give a fresh boost to Turkish markets and investor confidence. The European Union is also expected to welcome the results, given the critical positions of the AK Party's rivals towards more reforms to advance Turkey's membership bid.

Erdoğan said the poll results showed people wanted change and promised to go ahead with EU reforms with determination.

Single-party government, three-party Parliament

Yesterday's results meant only three parties were able to enter Parliament by overcoming a 10 percent national election threshold, namely the AK Party, the CHP and the MHP. Some 26 independent deputies, most of whom are backed by the pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party (DTP), also won seats in Parliament. The DTP-backed winners include Ahmet Türk and Aysel Tuğluk, co-chairpersons of the DTP, which did not stand in the elections out of fear of being left out of Parliament due to the election threshold.

"We were expecting to win 30 seats, but our calculations were upside down due to the AK Party's success," Türk said.

Other high-profile independent candidates included former Prime Minister Mesut Yılmaz, who won 23 percent of the votes in the Black Sea province of Rize, Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, leader of the nationalist Grand Unity Party (BBP) and leftist candidate Ufuk Uras.

Although it won more votes than it did in the past, the AK Party is set to get fewer seats given the fact that the parliamentary seats will be distributed among three parties now, instead of two as was the case after 2002 elections.

The AK Party is still certain to form a single-party government, controlling, however, fewer seats than required to change the Constitution or elect the president on its own.

Yesterday's election was called early to defuse political tension after the AK Party failed to get its candidate, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, elected as president in the face of a boycott by opposition parties. The vote was later cancelled by the Constitutional Court, which upheld an application from the CHP that there were less than 367 deputies in attendance.

The first task before the new Parliament now is to conclude the unfinished job and elect a new president to replace President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, whose term expired in May. Under the Constitutional Court ruling, at least 367 deputies should attend the vote on the new president, something that is not possible without AK Party winning the consent of at least one of the other parties. Erdoğan earlier signaled that he would seek consensus from other parties over the next presidential candidate, although he made it clear that Gül would remain a candidate as long as he wishes to.

Daily Milliyet on Saturday quoted Gül as saying that the military's warning had helped his party during the election campaign because voters were angry at the effort to influence the political process. "The intervention in the presidential election process deeply offended the Turkish people," he said. "This is how the people are showing their reaction."

Yesterday's election also came amid growing nationalist sentiments and calls from the military to launch a cross-border offensive into northern Iraq to crush bases of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has stepped up its attacks in southeastern Anatolia in the recent months. The new government will have to decide whether Turkey should stage an offensive into northern Iraq despite US and Iraqi objection.

Analysts expect a more highly charged political atmosphere in the post-election era, given the deep divisions on both the election of a new president and a possible northern Iraq incursion.

Erdoğan declined to mention a possible cross-border operation but said necessary steps would be taken in the fight against terrorism, which he said was a long-term task.

He also pledged to step up the fight against "criminal gangs" believed to have links with some state officials and institutions.

Nation opts for stability

Turkey has opted for stability, further political and economic reforms, a civilian constitution and continuation of European Union membership negotiations, with the incumbent Justice and Development Party (AK Party) increasing its popular support from 34.28 percent in 2002 to 47 percent in this year's polls. This increase, however, wasn't reflected in the number of AK Party deputies in Parliament, thanks to the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), which managed to pass the 10 percent election threshold. The AK Party will certainly have the majority in Parliament to form the next government, but it will need to reach a consensus with other parties in order to elect the president or amend the Constitution.

Opposition confined to specific regions

While the AK Party managed to garner votes from every part of the country, the opposition parties were limited to certain regions. The Republican People's Party (CHP) was unable to attract enough votes to win a deputy from 35 out of 81 cities. The MHP scored zero in 38 cities. While the AK Party scored more than 60 percent in 10 central Anatolian and southeastern Anatolian cities, both the CHP and the MHP fell below the 10 percent line in seven cities, all in central and eastern Anatolia. The CHP was the first party on the western coast but lost its strongholds of Artvin and Ardahan in the northeast to the AK Party. Newcomer MHP was the front runner only in two out of 84 constituencies: Mersin and Osmaniye.

Today's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 23 Temmuz 2007, 15:05