It's nation's turn to speak in Turkey

Now all is over and the day of judgment has arrived. No matter what result emerges from this election, it will be the ultimate decision of the Turkish voters.

It's nation's turn to speak in Turkey

Party members, leaders and politicians have been working hard for the past few months to win the hearts of voters.

Now all is over and the day of judgment has arrived. No matter what result emerges from this election, it will be the ultimate decision of the Turkish voters.

The result will also prove what the electorate thinks of the debates and rows between politicians as 42,533,041 voters flock to the polls to vote for the 7,395 candidates, including 726 independents, running for Parliament. Today Turkey has 85 electoral regions and 158,700 ballot boxes open. Ankara and İzmir are divided into two election regions each, while İstanbul is broken into three. Every other province is considered a single election region by itself.

In 2002 the cost of the elections was calculated by the Supreme Election Board (YSK) to be YTL 82 million -- little compared to the YTL 150 million estimated for today. This year, political parties that were able to secure over 7 percent of the vote in the 2002 elections received aid from the Treasury. The Justice and Development Party (AK Party) got YTL 94.1 million, the Republican People's Party (CHP) YTL 53.2 million, the True Path Party (DYP) 26.2 million, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) YTL 22.9 million and the Young Party (GP) received YTL 19.9 million in Treasury funds. In total the AK Party spent YTL 50 million and the CHP YTL 80 million on their election campaigns.

In today's elections Democratic Society Party (DTP) candidates will be running as independents in order to avoid being blocked by the country's 10 percent election barrier. While the number of independents running for Parliament in 2002 was 192, the number from İstanbul, which will send a total of 70 deputies to Parliament, is 54, and 29 in Ankara, which contributes 29 deputies to Turkey's 550-seat Parliament. İzmir, a city that will send 24 deputies to Parliament, has 37 independents in the race.

Some of the independents are leaders of political parties not likely to surpass the election threshold. Former Prime Minister and former Motherland Party (ANAP, now ANAVATAN) leader Mesut Yılmaz, Grand Unity Party (BBP) leader Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu, Freedom and Democracy Party (ÖDP) leader Ufuk Uras, DTP leader Ahmet Türk, Labor Party (EMEP) leader Levent Tüzel and Strong Turkey Party's (GTP) Tuna Bekleviç are all trying to get into Parliament as independent deputies.

Party leaders overwhelmingly preferred İstanbul as their electoral region as evidenced by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who is running in İstanbul's first region despite having been elected from Siirt in the last election. The Felicity Party's (SP) Recai Kutan, People's Ascent Party's (HYP) Yaşar Nuri Öztürk and Workers' Party (İP) leader Doğu Perinçek are all included in the İstanbul party lists.

CHP leader Deniz Baykal is listed in Antalya, DP leader Mehmet Ağar in Elazığ, MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli in Osmaniye, GP leader Cem Uzan in İzmir, Turkish Communist Party (TKP) leader Aydemir Güler in Mersin, Great Turkey Party (BTP) leader Haydar Baş in Trabzon and Liberal Democrat Party (LDP) leader Cem Toker is listed in İzmir's second electoral district, all if them topping the lists.

Main issues in today's election

One issue that was brought up almost too frequently in the past four-and-a-half years of Justice and Development Party (AK Party) rule was secularism. Turkey's staunchly secular establishment, backed by the military and other state institutions, expressed fears that Prime Minister Erdoğan's AK Party seeks to undermine the country's secularist principles. One party that used this election tool particularly well was the CHP. However Erdoğan and his party leaders have vowed to uphold secularism and pioneered EU-inspired reforms that led the country to begin accession talks in 2005.

The May presidential election was another key issue Turkey's political parties discussed often and will likely have a major impact on voter decisions. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, the AK Party's presidential nominee, was forced to drop his bid when the opposition boycotted the electoral process in Parliament and the Constitutional Court subsequently ruled the number of legislators present was too low -- a judicial decision many said was political and highly questionable in terms of legitimacy. Secularists argue that Gül as president would help Erdoğan's party to rule unchecked. Recently the AK Party wanted to change the Constitution to allow for popular election of the president -- a move the CHP opposes.

Yet another significant factor was a surge in attacks this summer from the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). The terrorists strike from hideouts in northern Iraq, and top military brass has spoken in favor a cross-border incursion to stamp them out. The prime minister appears reluctant to order an invasion but has said Turkey will take any steps necessary if his government concludes the US has failed to live up to a pledge to help fight terrorists. The opposition, particularly the MHP, is capitalizing on the government's reluctance and accusing the prime minister of being soft on terrorism.

Turkey's EU membership bid is another issue voters will use to make up their minds. Support for EU membership in Turkey hit an all-time low this year in response to increasing skepticism in some European countries toward Turkey's membership. Major parties have avoided entering any kind of debate on the EU, though the MHP openly accuses the EU of prejudice against the mainly Muslim country.

As with any other election, finance and the economy will also be influential. The government's term has seen strong economic growth since it instituted reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) while Turkey was emerging from an economic crisis. Inflation has dropped sharply, the stock market is flourishing, foreign direct investment (FDI) has increased and economic growth averages about 7 percent a year. Unemployment, however, remains high.

Democracy and the vote

Turkey's political parties had five years to convey their messages for this election. All has been said and deeds have all been done. But has the electorate really gotten the messages right? "Well, the parties for which the wind was blowing on their side most certainly did," according to Haluk Şahin, a communications professor at Bilgi University, adding: "The AK Party's message was 'No Stopping! Go ahead,' which it did successfully. As for the opposition, the CHP and the MHP stressed security."

Şahin says the process itself might be more important than the actual election results. "Democracy is a construction that is never finished," he says. "In this election process Turkey has passed the democratic test," he remarks, "despite a myriad of sensational and entertainment news-like disputes the leaders got into instead of talking about real issues."

And that is something important for the Turkish voter. Poll results have always made winners of political parties that run against the state-elite and bureaucracy. But can we be certain this is a general tendency which has held true in the nation's voting patterns since the end of the Republican-era single-party rule? The answer is "Yes," according to Mustafa Erdoğan, a constitutional law professor at Hacettepe University, who continues: "With the notable example of the elections after the March 12, 1971 military intervention. The Justice Party was in power at the time, and it had good standing at the end of the 1969 elections."

Another major exception might be the elections of 1999, which occurred after the Feb. 28 1997 coup de communiqué that overthrew the government. Erdoğan notes the political parties that did well in the 1999 elections, such as the Democratic Left Party (DSP) and the MHP, were not the ones that spoke out against the military. However that could be tied to the fact that the Feb. 28 process that started with the military communiqué was still ongoing, Erdoğan notes.

Ali Bayramoğlu, a political scientist and a prominent columnist in Turkey, agrees that Turkish political history provides evidence that voters have the tendency to support movements on the "society" side of "state-society" conflict. That democratic reflex has always been there since Turkey ended single-party rule. "The DP [the winner of the first free elections in Turkey after single-party rule] is mostly seen as a party that brought the periphery of society to the political center. It opened lines of communication with various groups that were eliminated in the Kemalist era," he states.

Movements that come from inside society have always found support, though an exception would be the 1974-1978 period in which the left was doing well. "However that was a result of the Marxist wave emerging worldwide," Bayramoğlu explains, adding: "Mostly the social vision of the left has been alien to society."

Which one of the parties is closer to the nation's values? That will be revealed to us all later tonight as the results of today's election begin to emerge.

Sunday's Zaman

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Temmuz 2007, 17:42
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