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.
Erdogan was originally a member of the Welfare Party, which has been called the “motherboard of Turkish Islamists.” He was arrested for his involvement in the party. He later formed the AKP, which has been praised by the Muslim Brotherhood for “exposing of the failure of the secular trend.” Erdogan’s foreign policy has become increasingly hostile to the West as his party has grown in power.
His National Security Council removed Iran and Syria as designated threats, but labeled Israel as a “major threat.” Erdogan opposed the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudanese President Omar Bashir because, in his words, “no Muslim could perpetrate a genocide.” He has received an award from Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, and has dragged his feet in confronting him. Erdogan said in June 2010, “I do not think that Hamas is a terrorist organization…They are Palestinians in resistance, fighting for their own land.”
Erdogan has brought Turkey closer to Iran. In December, Ahmadinejad addressed the Economic Cooperation Organization in Turkey and declared that an “Islamic World Order” must replace the secular capitalist world order. Turkey has opposed U.N. sanctions on Iran, and Erdogan and President Gul met with the Iranian-backed militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr in the spring of 2009 despite the American and Iraqi blood on his hands. Turkey has denied reports that the Iranian regime secretly donated to Erdogan’s campaign.
Turkey has held joint military exercises with Syria and has been accused of having a joint military campaign with Iran against Iraqi Kurdish militants. Fortunately, Erdogan has turned on Syrian President Assad in the wake of his violence against his people. Turkey is hosting meetings of the Syrian opposition, but Erdogan may be trying to assist the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood.
Erdogan has become increasingly confrontational towards Israel, with the 2010 Gaza flotilla incident as the prime example. The extremist IHH group behind the ambush of Israeli soldiers has strong ties to the Erdogan government and the AKP. A French counter-terrorism magistrate determined that the IHH’s goal is “overthrowing the democratic, secular and constitutional order present in Turkey and replacing it with an Islamic state founded on the Shariah.” The Israeli Defense Forces now has photos of IHH members with guns onboard the Mavi Marmara.
Erdogan’s AKP will now begin working on a new constitution. Turkey’s fate will soon be decided, and the Islamists are in the driver’s seat.