Turkey’s Islamist AKP maintains Majority in the Parliamentary Election

by Colonel on June 14, 2011

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“No pressing matter of state like the economy or foreign policy compelled Alayrettin Ayyaldiz to head to a polling station in his modest Istanbul neighborhood Sunday and cast his ballot for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party. It was a vote of faith and emotion.

“We’re totally connected with our hearts to the AKP,” said the 38-year-old vegetable and fruit vendor, referring to the party’s acronym. “It’s not about what they do. It’s because we love them. They’re of us. They’re of the people.”

The Islamist-rooted party, riding a wave of support from the pious poor and the newly emergent Muslim middle class, handily defeated its opponents to hold a majority of parliamentary seats, setting up a third term for Erdogan, who has been in office since 2003.

However, it fell just short of the 330 seats required to push through constitutional changes that would probably include resolving the country’s painful Kurdish problem by calling for a referendum rather than wrangling with parliament.

“He needs to consult with as broad a coalition as possible to change the constitution,” said Cengiz Aktar, a university professor and journalist. “And on the second-biggest challenge, the Kurdish issue, he also needs to consult. If he gets overconfident and makes his own constitution and his own Kurdish solution, they won’t work.”

For his part, Erdogan struck a conciliatory tone in televised remarks. “The winner of the June 12 elections is our people, whether they voted for the AK Party or not,” he told supporters. “Our nation assigned us to draft the new constitution. They gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation. We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties, civil society groups and academics. We will seek the broadest consensus.”

Interest in the election was fervent; 81% of eligible voters cast ballots. With all of the votes counted, results showed the AKP with just over 50% of the vote and 326 seats in the 550-seat chamber. Its main rival, the center-left Republican People’s Party, or CHP, won only 25% of the vote, good for 135 seats and better than its 2007 showing but low enough to prompt a leadership change within the organization, analysts say.

The right-wing Nationalist Movement Party appeared to have broken through the 10% hurdle required to gain a block of seats in parliament, with about 13% of the vote and 53 seats, despite a series of sex scandals. Independent candidates mostly representing the country’s Kurdish minority appeared set to win about 36 seats.

In addition to a solid core of pious Turks who voted for the AKP because they identify with its conservative values, voters interviewed in different parts of Istanbul expressed concern about the economy and the issue of resolving the decades-old conflict with ethnic Kurds, who account for a fifth of Turkey’s 75 million people. Constitutional changes championed by the AKP and others would expand the definition of citizenship to include Kurds and other ethnic and religious minorities.” [/expand]

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