ISTANBUL: The extent of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) victory in Turkey s parliamentary elections has exceeded everyone s expectations, including those of the party members themselves. According to final election results, it won 340 of the 550 seats in the parliament, a majority not often witnessed in the Turkish political scene.
Such success, given the party s roots in Islam and due to its rather controversial historical relations with the secular republic state, will undoubtedly provoke questions regarding Turkey s relationship with the West – both in Turkey and abroad. Time will tell what course of policy and direction the AKP will take, but as of now, there seems to be no point in anticipating any possible tension in its relationship with the West, particularly with Europe.
Chances are quite high that the AKP will continue its pro-European outlook, emphasizing the importance of European Union membership as it did before the elections. As a matter of fact, by relying on the importance that much of the EU places on religious freedoms, the AKP regards the EU accession process as a legitimate and helpful platform from which to face the hard-core secular elements of the state. Thus, it is of no surprise that at the beginning of its previous term in parliament, the AKP showed considerable enthusiasm in backing the EU adjustment bills known as Democratization Packages .
These packages aim to fulfill the Copenhagen political criteria for EU membership. They are legal reforms intended to enlarge the scope of certain fundamental rights and liberties to strengthen the functioning of democratic institutions. The enactment of these packages started in 2001 before the AKP s rule, and has continued under it.
Further reasoning for not fearing the development of tensions between Turkey and the Western world lies in the fact that Turkey itself has deep-rooted secular traditions and a Western outlook, as firmly stated in the main principles of the republic. These traits help to prevent any one party from harming its relations with Europe.
Indeed, there has been a Western-oriented modernization project in Turkey tracing back to a period of reformation (Tanzimat) during the Ottoman Empire . This project gained ground after the Republic of Turkey was created based on the vision of a secular nation state modelled after European states. Thus, the demand for accession to the EU could be considered a logical extension of this long-term modernization project.
The AKP thus far seems to be accepting the deep-rooted nature of this modernization process. In addition, according to many political analysts and prominent journalists, the last elections show that the AKP, which was politically more on the right, has started to act like a centre-right party, suggesting that it will now be more moderate in regard to the Islamic ideology of the party s grassroots that aim to place more Islamic symbols in the political realm. The AKP has also developed a tendency to represent the conservative right segments of the country that support a secular, West-facing outlook.
Also, the idea that the Turkish military s recently expressed concerns regarding the presidential elections had an impact on the AKP s victory in the parliamentary elections is misplaced. The AKP s success is more due to the lack of an alternative centre-right party in the eyes of the Turkish public rather than a mere reaction to the military s stepping in to express some concerns.
Because of the AKP s religious roots, its victory in the latest elections can easily be misrepresented as a victory against secularism. But in fact, the AKP s victory should not be seen as a sign that Turkey will become a radicalized country. Although Turkey s population is predominantly Muslim, the country is far from choosing a political system based on Islamic law.
Regardless of the ideology of the ruling party, Turkey has for some time been an example of how a majority-Muslim country can exist as a secular state, and these past elections have not changed that fact. This point was clearly emphasized by Prime Minister Erdogan in his post-election speech in which he said the AKP respects the different views that exist in Turkish society and recognizes the importance of secular values that constitute one of the main principles of the republic.
Sezin Morkaya Slaatsis a political scientist, specialized in EU affairs and legal system. She was a former economic editor in Turkey but now works as a freelance journalist. This article was a joint piece by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and Yunus News and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org and www.yunusnews.com.