Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and his Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory in Sunday’s elections. The Islamists won half of the vote, leaving them short of the two-thirds majority they sought in the parliament, which would have allowed them to rewrite the constitution unobstructed. However, the AKP’s huge victory means the Islamists will still control Turkey and oversee the writing of a new constitution.
The election actually results in a slight loss for the AKP. The party currently holds 331 of the 550 seats in parliament, and is projected to now only have 325. The Islamists must win the support of only five non-AKP seats to put up a draft constitution for a referendum. The popularity of Prime Minister Erdogan and his party means that such a referendum is very likely to pass. The AKP may not have the two-thirds majority that would have allowed for a unilateral writing of the constitution, or even enough to unilaterally submit a draft for a referendum, but not much stands in its way.
“Elections taking place today are likely to be the last fair and free ones in Turkey. With Turkey’s leading Islamist party controlling all three branches of the government and the military sidelined, little will stop it from changing the rules to keep power into the indefinite future,” wrote Dr. Daniel Pipes of the electoral results.
In September, 58 percent of Turks voted in favor of a referendum that paved the way for a new constitution. Tellingly, Iran endorsed the referendum. A key objective was to undermine the power of the military that has acted as a vanguard of secularism. It asserts civilian control over the military and increased the power of the president and the parliament over the judiciary. Both the presidency and the parliament are controlled by the AKP.
The Erdogan government’s reforms were welcomed in the West because they make Turkey more democratic structurally, but these reforms have coincided with disturbing crackdowns on political opponents. The government has blocked many websites, including YouTube, without having to explain why. Over 60 journalists have been imprisoned for what they’ve written. Two of them were arrested in March and have still not been informed of the charges against them. As Dr. Barry Rubin points out, the Erdogan government has “repressed opposition and arrested hundreds of critics, bought up 40 percent of the media, and installed its people in the bureaucracy.”
There has also been a concerted effort to decrease the political influence of the military. Over 160 current and former military officers have been charged with involvement in an alleged coup plot in 2003. It has been called the “the largest-ever crackdown on Turkey’s military.” The government claims that elements of the military sought to carry out attacks, including the bombing of mosques. Those arrested have also been accused of planning to foment conflict by provoking Greece to shoot down a Turkish military aircraft. Top officials including the former commander of the First Army and former leaders of the air force, special forces and navy have been arrested. Erdogan’s opponents allege that the arrests are politically-motivated.