Erdoğan turns new page in second term in power

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan vowed not to pursue revenge against his rivals, saying the new term in office represents a fresh start for him and his party.

Erdoğan turns new page in second term in power
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose Justice and Development Party (AK Party) won a landslide election victory on Sunday in a highly charged political atmosphere, vowed not to pursue revenge against his rivals, saying the new term in office represents a fresh start for him and his party.

"I am no longer interested in the pre-election campaigning era. We turned a new page, a white one," Erdoğan told reporters after a meeting with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, when asked whether he expected his rival Deniz Baykal to keep his pre-election promise to swim to the Greek island of Rhodes in the event of an election loss.

The AK Party secured a second term in office after winning 46.6 percent of the vote in Sunday's general election and is expected to control around 340 seats in the 550-member Parliament. Its rivals, the nationalist Republican People's Party (CHP) and the far-right Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), got 20.8 and 14.3 percent of the vote respectively -- less than the total AK Party votes combined -- to win 111 and 71 seats in Parliament.

In remarks yesterday Erdoğan also signaled he would seek consensus in electing his successor. He said he had phoned Baykal, leader of the Republican People's Party (CHP), and told him that he would like to visit the CHP for talks on the AK Party's "planned steps" after the new Parliament is formed. He said he had also phoned Devlet Bahçeli, leader of the third-biggest party, the MHP, but was unable to talk to him immediately.

Erdoğan did not elaborate on the planned steps, but he appeared to be referring to the election of a new president after a first attempt begun in April failed due to a Constitutional Court decision that cancelled the vote. The decision was prompted by an application from the CHP asking for the nullification of the ballot on the basis that there were fewer than 367 deputies (two-thirds of Parliament) in attendance.

Since the court's ruling is still in place, the new Parliament will have to convene with a quorum of 367 deputies in order to be able to elect a new president to replace Sezer, whose term expired in May. Failure to elect the president may trigger early elections again.

But the CHP declined to express readiness for conciliation. "We would talk if the prime minister says he wants consensus in the election of the president," said CHP Deputy Chairman Mustafa Özyürek in remarks broadcasted on NTV television. "But it would not work if he attempts to impose anything on us."

The CHP has so far remained elusive on what it meant by consensus. It took the April vote to the Constitutional Court because it opposed the candidacy of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, saying a president from the AK Party ranks would undermine the secular order of Turkey. Asked whether Gül is still a candidate, Erdoğan said yesterday that steps will be taken after consultations within the AK Party and expressed hope that the issue would be resolved in a spirit of solidarity, without letting political tension erupt again.

He reiterated that what Gül wants on this subject is very important to him. In remarks before the elections, Erdoğan said Gül would remain a candidate as long as he wishes to do so. Gül, a moderate politician who has steered a process of reform for Turkey's membership of the EU, is still the choice of AK Party voters for the post. Party supporters chanted "President Gül" slogans when they gathered in front of the party headquarters on Sunday night to celebrate the election win. Erdoğan, who was then addressing the crowd, declined to make any comment. When his supporters began to boo Baykal, he asked them to stop, reminding them that election campaigning is over.

Sezer congratulated Erdoğan at yesterday's meeting and asked his government to remain in power until a new one is formed, said Erdoğan.

Polarization-free politics

In his speech on Sunday night, Erdoğan vowed to avoid further polarization in Turkish politics and said his party would embrace all of society, irrespective of whether they voted for his party.

Erdoğan's pledge is an attempt to reach out to 7 million voters who mainly supported the CHP in the election out of fear that a second term in government for the ruling AK Party would undermine Turkey's secular order and threaten their Western lifestyle. Many even dreamed of a coalition with the MHP to unseat the government and called on anti-government voters not willing to vote for the CHP to support the MHP, or vice versa.

"Please be assured that no matter who you voted for, your votes are valuable for us too. We respect your choice. ... We have common values and objectives that unite us all," Erdoğan said on Sunday night, promising he would govern for all Turks and referring to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the revered founder of the 1923 modern republic. "I understand the message from those who did not vote for us. … There will be no concession on the basic characteristics of the republic."

The divide between the AK Party and its secularist-nationalist opponents has emerged as one of the most important fault lines in Turkish politics over the past years. Its critics accused Erdoğan's government of seeking an Islamist agenda during its four-and-a-half years in power, but, ironically, the AK Party became the most reformist Turkish government in decades, steering Turkey in the direction of membership in the EU and liberalizing Turkish law and the economy, while its critics became increasingly nationalist and isolationist in rhetoric. AK Party officials constantly denied accusations that they seek to undermine the secular regime.

The election was called earlier than scheduled after the military issued a memorandum on April 27 threatening intervention in politics because of a perceived threat to the secular regime. Gül then had to withdraw his bid after the Constitutional Court cancelled the election in a controversial decision that came a few days after the military memorandum.

Erdoğan said on Sunday that the election results confirmed his party has firmly placed itself in the center of Turkish politics and vowed to act as a center party, representing all and protecting the interests of all society.

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Güncelleme Tarihi: 24 Temmuz 2007, 16:38