Editors Note: Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of the Justice and Developemnt Party (AKP) has secured his third term on Sunday, the BBC reports. The AKP won just under 50 percent of the vote and will stay in power for the next eight years. Despite the win, Turkey's electorial system gave the AKP fewer seats in parliment, less than the 330 needed to draft a new consittuions on its own.
ISTANBUL – Turkey’s largest city appears wallpapered in technicolor campaign signs and billboards, but amidst the tumult one face seems almost omnipresent – the trim mug of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
By measuring just how much power the Turks want to put in the hands of their prime minister, Sunday’s parliamentary elections will likely affect the future of the country’s constitution, and by extension how it defines citizenship.
As polls close this evening, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) appears – to nobody’s surprise – poised to claim victory. But while the results may not be in doubt, a note of uncertainty reverberated among Erdogan’s critics over an ever more polarized society, threats from Kurdish militants, and fears over the increasingly bold swagger of Erdogan’s regime.
According to Yarkin Cebeci, an economist at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in Istanbul, the AKP is likely to win somewhere between 45-48 percent of the votes, resulting in a substantial parliamentary majority. If so, they will have done something that no other party has done in Turkey in half a century: win three elections in a row.
“We have seen so many changes since the AKP came into power” said Caner Can, a bearded shopkeeper who cast his vote for the AKP. “This is what our country needs.”
What really matters, though, is how much they win by. All parties agree that Turkey needs a new, civil-minded constitution to replace the current document drafted under military tutelage in the wake of the 1980 coup. If the AKP gets more than 330 seats in parliament it will be able to rewrite the constitution and then put it forward for approval in a national referendum. If the party get 367 seats, they will be able to unilaterally push a new constitution through parliament.
Mustafa Akyol, a columnist for the Hurriyet Daily News, believes that the AKP will win big, but not big enough to reach 330 seats.
“And that would be good; for I believe the party must seek consensus with the opposition on the new constitution rather than drafting it all alone,” he wrote in an op-ed in Hurriyet the morning of the election.
Erdogan has ridden to ever-greater heights on the back of a sustained economic boom, growing influence in the Middle East, and a successful pruning back of the military’s former ironclad grip over the state.
Just over a decade ago Turkey was the “sickman of Europe”, but this time around they emerged from the global financial crisis relatively unscathed. Per capita income has nearly doubled under the AKP. With Turkey claiming second place only to China last year as the world’s fastest growing economy, the AKP has been concentrating on projects that play well with Turkish voters: building roads, improving hospitals, and promising more to come.
Not all of Erdogan’s “crazy” infrastructure projects however – including a massive canal that would link the Black Sea to the Marmara – have been so well received. Such rapid growth has taken its toll on the environment. Villagers from Turkey’s Black Sea and Aegean coasts have come together to organize mass protests against the hundreds of power plants and dozens of damns planned along their waterways.
The main challenger to the AKP in this election is the secularist Republican People's Party (CHP), established by Turkey’s adored founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. The CHP has tried to reinvent itself under Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a charismatic if timid member of Turkey’s Alevi minority, with a strong anticorruption record and a mind to reform his floundering party.
Cebeci predicts that the CHP is likely to improve significantly on their 2007 showing of just over one fifth of the vote, placing them at just over a quarter of the vote in the latest estimates.
“We need a real challenger to Erdogan or he will become like any other dictator,” said Deniz Yilmaz, a young law student who voted today for CHP. Yilmaz represents another factor impacting the outcome of the elections: youth. One third of the electorate is under 25 years old.
Despite its popularity, Erdogan’s regime faces increasing criticism domestically, and the CHP is exploiting that discontent to its advantage, painting the AKP as increasingly authoritarian.
"The AKP made promises about democracy and freedoms," Kilicdaroglu told Al Jazeera English in an interview after a CHP rally in Istanbul last week. "[But] under AKP rule, unprinted books were confiscated, hundreds of journalists were detained... They want democracy and freedoms for themselves. We want them for the people."
The values agenda that once made the AKP so popular with the pious is now chafing at the neck of Turkey’s more secular crowd. Alcohol taxes are among the highest in Europe. Huge protests have broken out over an upcoming plan to require Internet users in Turkey to choose one of four content-filtering packages to go online.
Freedom of the press, critics say, has been badly bruised by overly aggressive court cases over a military coup plot. Most journalists now assume their phone is tapped. The public leaking of private conversations has become common.
Most believe that Erdogan, barred from serving as Prime Minister for a fourth term, hopes to use the new constitution to introduce a French-style presidential system. He has said such a system is “what lies in my heart.”
The presidential system would allow Erdogan to govern for two additional terms and see him through to 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.
As the country waits to learn the margin of the AKP’s victory, doubt lingers about its democratic credentials and ability to guide the country to a new constitution that is inclusive, transparent, and addresses the concerns of all Turks.
"Our nation will make its decision today," President Abdullah Gul told reporters after casting his vote, calling for political unity. "Whatever has been said at election rallies will stay there. Tomorrow is the day to unite forces.”