Turkey’s Erdo?an to build consensus after big win

Recep Tayyip Erdo?an {Reuters]

Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdo?an will start a third term of one-party rule strengthened by Sunday's decisive election victory but also burdened by the need for consensus to push ahead with plans for a new constitution.

Erdo?an will have to focus first on a pressing foreign policy issue right on his borders: unrest in neighbouring Syria has led to nearly 7,000 Syrians fleeing to Turkey to escape a brutal crackdown by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, with more coming every day.

But analysts said Erdo?an also must find ways to revive a stalled bid for membership of the European Union and break down French and German reluctance to let Turkey in.

Erdo?an, whose AK Party has transformed Muslim Turkey into one of the world's fastest-growing economies and ended a cycle of military coups, won 49.9% of the vote, or 326 seats, in Sunday's parliamentary election (see 'Background').

The vote was AK's biggest electoral tally since it first came to power in 2002 but the party failed to win the 330 seats it needed to call a referendum to recast the constitution, written almost 30 years ago during a period of military rule.

Financial markets were cheered on Monday as investors saw the mixed result forcing the AK Party to compromise with others to make the constitutional change. The Turkish lira strengthened against the dollar and bonds also gained.

"The new constitution requires consensus and dialogue with other parties and the society at large," Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Istanbul's Bahçe?ehir University, told Reuters.

"We will see if Erdo?an is ready for these with his majority or will he go his own way and impose his own views on Turkey – in which case we will have difficult times."

Turkish newspapers lauded his success.

"Turkey loves him," "The master of the ballot box," said front page headlines next to pictures of a smiling Erdo?an waving to cheering supporters outside party headquarters.

Critics fear Erdo?an, who has a reputation for being intolerant of criticism, might use the victory to cement power, limit freedoms and persecute opponents.

In a victory speech before thousands of flag-waving supporters in the capital Ankara on Sunday night, he pledged "humility" and said he would work with rivals.

"People gave us a message to build the new constitution through consensus and negotiation. We will discuss the new constitution with opposition parties. This new constitution will meet peace and justice demands."

The new leader of the secularist opposition Republican People's Party (CHP), which garnered its best result in more than 30 years with 25.9% of the vote, warned Erdo?an that he would be watching his movements closely.

"We wish all success to AKP, but they must remember there's a stronger main opposition party now," Kemal K?l?çdaro?lu said.

Analysts saw scope for political turbulence in Turkey.

"The anticipated preparation of a new constitution has the potential to create significant political uncertainty, as it may well raise profound and controversial issues related to the division of power, secularism, religion, nationalism and ethnic minority rights," Ed Parker, Fitch's head of sovereign ratings for Europe, the  Middle East and Africa, said in a statement issued on Monday.

Model for Arab spring

Turkey and Erdo?an's party are often are cited as models for supporters of democracy living through the 'Arab Spring' series of anti-authoritarian protests in parts of the Middle East and North Africa.

But opponents say Erdo?an, whose party evolved from banned Islamist movements, is imposing a conservative social agenda.

Since crushing old establishment parties on a wave of support from a rising middle class of religious Turks, Erdo?an has challenged the secularist military and judiciary with reforms meant to help Turkey meet EU standards of democracy.

He also has set the long-time NATO member and US ally on a more assertive foreign policy course, building closer relations with Middle East countries, including Iran.

Some financial analysts had warned that too large an AK majority could polarise a country that is deeply divided over the role of religion and ethnic minorities.

A limited majority is seen making the government focus on macroeconomic imbalances, including an overheating economy.

There has been speculation that Erdo?an would seek to move Turkey toward a more presidential system of government, with the ultimate aim of becoming president himself.

Besides the economy, Erdo?an's government also will need to tackle a separatist conflict in the mainly Kurdish southeast. A strong showing by the pro-Kurdish BDP in the Kurdish region played a role in denying the AK a bigger vote haul.

On Sunday night, a percussion bomb exploded in southeast Turkey, injuring 11 people celebrating election victories of Kurdish candidates, security and hospital officials said.

The explosion occurred around 11 p.m. (4 p.m. ET) in the province of Sirnak, near the Iraqi border. Casualties were being treated at a nearby hospital.

EURACTIV with Reuters

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso and Council President Herman Van Rompuy stated in a written message:

"We congratulate you on the outcome of the general elections held on 12 June.

"The results open the way to further strengthening Turkey's democratic institutions, as well as to the continued modernisation of the country, in line with European values and standards. We are convinced the coming period offers new opportunities for further reforms, including work on a new constitution in the broadest possible consultation and a spirit of dialogue and compromise, and for strengthening confidence between Turkey and all EU member states. Progress in these fields should also give new impetus to the accession negotiations with the European Union.

"We remain committed to enhancing our dialogue and co-operation to the benefit of our citizens and our region, and would welcome you to Brussels at your earliest convenience."

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek also issued a message of congratulations:

"I would like to congratulate Prime Minister Erdo?an and the AK party on their landslide victory. Such a great election result also entails big responsibility towards the Turkish electorate to continue along the path of necessary reforms.

"In particular, I would like to underline the necessity to pursue a comprehensive constitutional reform, in a transparent and inclusive manner, with consultation of all main sectors of society and in close cooperation with the opposition.

"I welcome the fact that the Turkish voters have manifested their confidence by electing a greater number of female members as well as Kurdish politicians to the parliament.

"It is my hope and wish that the new government will continue the EU accession process with renewed determination and energy. That it will commit to improving the rule of law, the freedom of expression and media, as well as minority rights in the country. Prime Minister Erdo?an is a very experienced politician and I look forward to working with his government," Buzek said.

However, the European Parliament president lamented that the 10% threshold for political party representation in parliament continues to limit the representative nature of the Turkish legislature.

"The new Turkish government should pay a serious attention to address these shortcomings," Buzek insisted.

The leading business association in Turkey, TÜS?AD, issued a message of congratulations to the ruling AK Party, stressing that the next parliament should undertake all possible endeavours to improve democratic standards and the well-being of Turkey.

TÜS?AD sums up its expectations from the upcoming government as follows:  

1. A new constitution that places the 'individual' at its centre through a participatory and conciliatory approach.

2. The strengthening of Turkey's most important anchor, the European Union membership process, on the way to pluralist democracy, high living standards and sustainable development.

3. Strengthening macroeconomic stability and securing sustainable development.

Asked by EURACTIV to comment on the Turkish elections, Diogo Pinto, secretary-general of European Movement International (EMI), stated:

"I and the EMI have observed with interest the recent general elections in Turkey and we would like to start by congratulating the Turkish voters and all the candidates who stood for these elections, for having shown their strong commitment to democratic values, and, in particular, Mr. Erdo?an and the AK Party for their victory.

"The outcome of these elections confirm our hope in that Turkey will pursue its modernisation path, based on the European values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We strongly believe that the period ahead offers the opportunity for the necessary reforms to take place in an ever more consensual internal political atmosphere, which will ultimately lead to strengthen the trust between Turkey and the EU too; and we therefore hope that this will bring a new impetus to the Turkish accession negotiations with the EU.

"The EMI remains committed, through its members and other civil society partners, to keep the EU-Turkey dialogue alive, and the pressure on both sides' authorities strong."

Egemen Ba?i?, the Turkish minister for European Union affairs and chief negotiator, said in a press release that "We are proud of our landslide victory and proud of Turkey's strong democratic credentials."

He called in particular "on all opposition parties to sincerely support and contribute to Turkey’s EU transformation."

"One of the first things to undertake in the post-election period is to adopt a civilian constitution based on national consensus. This constitution will also mark an important step for our EU accession process," he added.

On 12 June Turkish citizens voted to decide which parties and MPs will fill the 550 seats of the Turkish parliament for the next five years. 

Over 50 million voters were called to cast their ballots in 85 electoral regions.

The big challenge for the ruling AK (Justice and Development) party was to secure a minimum of 330 seats in parliament, which would allow its next government to push through a new constitution and pave the way for a new presidential system in Turkey.

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