Why have Turks voted the same party into government three times running?
The Justice and Development Party (AKP) is conservative and its government implements
neoliberal economic policies strictly in line with the wishes of big business.
Yet it just got 49.8 percent of the vote, up 3 percent from the last elections and up 15 percent from 2002.
There are two reasons for the government’s continuing popularity—relative economic stability and the popular perception that this government challenges the power of the military.
The Turkish economy is now the 17th largest in the world. Growth has averaged 7 percent a year since the AKP came to office.
And it has managed to avoid the disastrous effects of the international crisis.
In 2008 when the crisis broke, prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said, “The Turkish economy will not be affected.” There was much hilarity in the opposition ranks and on the left.
But he has largely been proved right. Growth has continued, sometimes at a rate second only to China. And last year unemployment actually came down.
There are particular reasons for this, few having to do with any great skill on the government’s part. And no one knows how long it can last.
Nevertheless, people have a general sense that things are not too bad.
At least as important as the economy is the general belief that this government has been attempting to push the military out of its traditionally powerful position in Turkish politics.
There is no doubt that the military, aided by the judiciary, much of the media and much of academia, have been planning to overthrow what they consider to be an “Islamic” government.
AKP has had to fight back, and in doing so it has had to take certain democratising steps.
It has jailed four-star generals who plotted a military takeover.
It is prosecuting General Kenan Evren, who led the 1980 coup and went on to serve as President of the Republic. This would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
The government enjoys widespread support in doing this.
The “social democratic” opposition, which had among its candidates people who have been in jail for helping the generals, failed to make any headway, polling 26 percent of the vote.
The second significant outcome of the elections was the success of the Kurdish party. They increased their number of MPs from 21 to 35, and have taken all the seats in a number of Kurdish provinces.
This provides further confirmation, were confirmation needed, that a peaceful resolution of the Kurdish question is now top of the country’s agenda. No government can avoid the issue.
The Kurdish movement’s demands of regional autonomy, education in their own tongue and the release of thousands of imprisoned Kurdish politicians, will now be pressed harder and more “legitimately” than before.
The government has promised a new constitution which will replace the hugely anti-democratic one brought in by the military in 1980.
This will have to recognise the Kurds as equal citizens and grant all their democratic rights.
The new government will not have a sufficient majority to bring in a new constitution, unless it is supported by the Kurdish MPs. It will have to sit and negotiate with them, and meet many of their demands. The alternative is war, and everyone knows this.
A conservative government will try to slow democratisation down and get away with giving the Kurds as little as possible.
How far Turkey changes depends on pressure from below, both from the Kurdish movement and from the left.
Ron Margulies is a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (DSIP) in Turkey