Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) was expected to perform well in Sunday’s parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his electoral powerhouse were running for a third term in office against a splintered opposition of nationalists, secularists and leftist parties.
The AKP ran on a platform of stability. Since 2002, when Erdoğan swept to power with 34 percent of the vote, the AKP has liberalized the economy and restored confidence and growth to Turkey. Nearly unaffected by the global economic downturn, Turkey’s conservative party won a strong mandate in the previous parliamentary elections of 2007, capturing 47 percent of the vote.
Turkey’s secular establishment regards Erdoğan warily with concerns about his party’s pandering to the Islamist vote. The conservatives may have only partly succeeded in repealing a ban on women wearing headscarfs in public spaces; their intentions were perfectly clear, say opponents. The AKP claims to uphold religious freedoms but secularists see growing signs of orthodox Islamism.
The AKP’s civil rights record has been notably progressive for a party that describes itself as conservative however. In an effort to meet the criteria of European Union membership, Erdoğan’s government allowed the European Court of Human Rights supremacy over the Turkish judiciary, diminished the powers of a 1991 anti-terrorism law which had constrained Turkey’s democratization and abolished the death penalty.
For decades, the country’s secularists relied on the army to keep Islamism at bay while enriching themselves at the cost of financial ruin. Erdoğan began to curtail the influence of the armed forces when he came to power seven years ago and has worked to root out corruption from government altogether — a herculean task that has not been without merit. In conjunction with market reforms and free-trade agreements with Turkeys’s neighbors, the economy is prospering because of it.
The main opposition Republican People’s Party, which was founded by Atatürk himself, hasn’t received much more than 20 percent of the vote in recent elections but may fare better under the new leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu who ran for mayor of Istanbul in 2009. Kılıçdaroğlu is expected to move the party further to the left and campaigned in the rural east of the country — an AKP stronghold where the social democrats haven’t performed well for generations.