On 12 June 2011 the Republic of Turkey, with a population of 78 million people, held its 17th general election in which Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s
Justice and Development Party (AKP) secured a third consecutive term in government. Their victory was largely based on Turkey’s economic success
under the stewardship of the AKP which came to power in 2002 and steered Turkey into becoming the world’s 16th largest economy
. The new government faces some significant challenges, including the impact on Turkey of the sweeping political change that is continually unfolding in the adjacent Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.
Turkish community in Australia
Participation amongst the 52 million
eligible voters in the 2011 Turkish parliamentary elections was high at around 87 per cent. However, the Turkish Supreme Election Board (YSK) ruled in March 2011 that Turkish expat
communities would be barred from voting overseas, including in Australia. Turkish citizens in Australia, large numbers of whom reside in the electorates of Calwell (VIC), Reid (NSW), Wills (VIC) and Parramatta (NSW), were consequently unable to participate in the election. Many in the Turkish expat community
in Australia expressed their disappointment
with the YSK decision.
In the 2006 Census, 59 402 people in Australia declared their ancestry to be ‘Turkish’. The Census also recorded 30 487 people listing ‘Turkey’ as their country of birth. Australia’s relationship with Turkey is described
by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as ‘productive and steadily developing’, and people-to-people links are strong, including tourism. Total bilateral trade
between Australia and Turkey, which stood at A$944 million in 2010, has much space to grow, particularly in the education sector and service industry.
Political system in Turkey
Turkey is a secular republican parliamentary democracy, founded in 1923 out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire by Mustafa Kemal ‘Ataturk’. The creation of the modern Turkish state is celebrated annually on 29 October with a national holiday. The head of Government is the Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President—the Turkish head of state. The current President is Abdullah Gül
, who was elected on 28 August 2007 by an absolute majority in the 550-member, unicameral Grand National Assembly. The approval of a package of constitutional changes in a national referendum in October 2007 reduced the presidential term in Turkey from seven to five years. The current presidential term is due to expire in 2012.
On 12 September 2010, the pro-European Union (EU) AKP Government successfully staged another referendum on a further 26 constitutional amendments
. Some of the main provisions of these amendments included the reshaping of the judiciary and curbing the powers of the military—which many in Turkey view as the traditional ‘guardian’ of Turkish secularism. EU
officials have demanded since the official start of accession negotiations in 2005 that Turkey enact a civilian constitution. Turkey applied for full membership of the European Economic Community in April 1987. EU President Herman Van Rompuy has welcomed
the AKP’s re-election in 2011 and Turkey’s continuing EU accession talks, although in 2009 he was quoted
as saying that Turkey will ‘never’ become part of the EU.
Turkey’s largest Opposition party, the traditionally secularist Republican People’s party (CHP)
led by Kemal Kilidaroglu, said that Turkey, a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), was moving further adrift under the AKP’s leadership from its secularist traditions towards pursuing more socially conservative
and centralising policies. Turkey’s secularist policies were established at the national level by CHP’s founder, Ataturk. However, under a comparatively more socially-conservative party and charismatic leader, Turkey is likely to serve as a model for countries in the adjacent MENA region, in particular Egypt and Tunisia.
The main pro-Kurdish political party, Peace and Democracy Party (BDP), led by Selahattin Demirtas
, has threatened to boycott
the next parliamentary term due to major disagreements regarding the treatment by the Supreme Election Board of elected pro-Kurdish MPs following the 12 June elections.
Key electoral issues included Turkey’s widening economic deficit and other socio-economic issues, proposed amendments to the 1982 Constitution, and the status of the Kurdish community.
In the 2011 parliamentary elections Turkey’s ruling AKP
won over 50 per cent of the vote with 326 seats in parliament out of a total of 550—a decrease of 15 seats from the 2007 elections. The AKP was able to form a single-party government for a third consecutive term, but it will need support from the opposition in order to proceed with planned constitutional amendments to the 1982 Constitution. Prime Minister Erdogan has vowed to work with the Opposition on enacting a civilian constitution
political and secularist party, CHP
, won 135 seats, an increase of 23 from 2007. The right-wing Nationalist Action Party (MHP) led by Devlet Bahceli won 53 seats, a loss of 17 compared to 70 in the 2007 parliamentary election.
According to the Economist Intelligence Unit
, the BDP obtained 36 seats thanks largely to the success of pro-Kurdish candidates who ran as independents. This represents an increase of 16 since the last election. As six pro-Kurdish elected MPs are currently in prison for ‘crimes against constitutional order’ or facing charges for ‘conspiring with terrorist organisation’ (including Hatip Dicle
who may be the BDP's next leader) the Supreme Election Board removed Dicle’s MP status on 21 June. Protests against this decision occurred in several cities across Turkey.
AKP candidate Oya Eronat, who came second after Dicle in the Diyarbakır province in eastern Turkey, increased the AKP parliamentary representation to 327, reducing BDP’s representation to 35. With Oya Eronat becoming a MP, the number of women in the Turkish Parliament has increased to 79, up significantly from 45 in the 2007 election.
Following the AKP’s victory
in the 2011 parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Erdogan indicated in his victory speech
that this win represented a ‘victory’ for the Middle East, the Balkans and the Caucasus, just as much as Turkey. Erdogan also signalled a more active foreign policy for Turkey in regional
and global affairs. Turkey’s relationship with its Western allies, as well as with Israel and Iran will be closely observed by international audiences in the years to come. The tense situation in Syria with thousands of Syrian refugees crossing the border into Turkey is likely to challenge the AKP’s policy of ‘zero problems with neighbours’ as cross-border tensions between the two countries increase.
Domestic political cleavages in Turkey, particularly in relation to the government’s relationship with the Kurdish community, are likely to continue during Erdogan’s third term in office.